70 Days With Hemingway And Me

Every Novel, Back to Back, Starting With the First

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A Raised Glass to Richard Cantwell, Col. Infantry, USA.

July 20th, 2009 · No Comments · Across the River and Into the Trees

Sometimes I can’t believe my life.

Here I sit, listening to Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos 1-2-3, enjoying a Partagas cigar, sipping a dry martini (made with ice-cold Boodles gin), and feeling a gentle breeze blowing off the lake virtually at my feet.

Does any human being deserve to live so royally?

Nope. In fact, if this was a Hemingway novel, the other shoe would drop and either I or Elisabeth would keel over dead in the next 10 minutes.

Better enjoy it while I can.

(The CD changer just clicked over to Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro K. 492Overture. Sublime.)

CAUTION: Spoilers ahead.

Across the River and into the Trees is another Hemingway book about war, an American living in a foreign country, and death. Only this time, the story is about a May-December romance between Colonel Richard Cantwell, 51, and Contessa Donna Renata, 19. The two meet in Venice, fall in love, and enjoy the most romantic (albeit somewhat Platonic) relationship I’ve ever read in the pages of a book.

The book’s title is a metaphor for death. In this case, it foretells the death of protagonist Richard Cantwell, who succumbs to a heart attack at the end of the book.

It took awhile to get into this novel. It opens with someone on a duck hunt. Then it slowly morphs into the story of a U.S. Army Colonel in Venice and his relationship with a very young, but very, very beautiful woman. The two say, “I love you so” so often it would be sickening if it weren’t so damned sweet.

I originally wanted to title this entry something along these lines:

Dear Ernie,

The war is over.
We won.
Can you write a book that isn’t about war?

Sincerely,
Bill

But I didn’t.

I finished this book in a day, sitting at a park that was beyond picture-perfect, with a breeze blowing, and a temperature of about 70 degrees. Idyllic doesn’t even begin to describe it.

The more I read, the more I enjoyed these two people. They lived on borrowed time and knew it. Yet, when they were together, they lived flat-out, with gusto, and fully. They loved one another as only two people who know the end is nigh can love.

I always wondered why Ernest Hemingway killed himself. But when I read his books I can see why. He must have felt too deeply about life.

“Life is a comedy to those who think,” goes the old saying. “A tragedy to those who feel.”

To Ernest Miller Hemingway, life was a tragedy, playing out in endless wars, lost loves, and lives lived without meaning — or way too much meaning.

It took a while to get into Across the River and Into the Trees. More than once, I found myself wishing he’d quit with the foreign words, the war-fueled anecdotes, and simply tell a tale about two people. Even when the two were in bed together (lying on top of the bed), the beautiful young girl asked Richard to tell her about the war. He did. In detail. Vividly. As only someone who was there can tell it.

War must have really affected Hemingway. In a profound way. It must have dogged him throughout his life.

Few capture the futility of life, and the depth of love, more eloquently — and tragically — than Ernest Hemingway.

Over the River and Into the Trees is a book that isn’t easy to get into. But it’ll move you if you give it a chance.

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