70 Days With Hemingway And Me

Every Novel, Back to Back, Starting With the First

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“Where Was Cadillac, Anyway?” (I Know a Thing Or Two)

June 11th, 2009 · 2 Comments · The Torrents of Spring

Cadillac I find it hard to believe that Scripps — who knows intimate details of Chicago, Grand Rapids, and (seemingly) Paris and all points beyond — wouldn’t know where Cadillac is, even though it’s a mere 52 miles south of Mancelona.

Grand Rapids, by way of contrast, is 150 miles south Mancelona. Yet he’s heard of Grand Rapids. Why not Cadillac?

Yet, that’s the case. In Chapter Seven of Part Two (“The Struggle For Life”), Scripps wonders this: “Who was Yogi, anyway? Had he really been in the war? What had the war meant to him? Was he really the first man to enlist from Cadillac? Where was Cadillac, anyway? Time would tell.”

Maybe.

I wonder many things about Yogi, Scripps, and the world in which they live. For instance, why did Scripps’ bird go from death to life in the dead of winter just because he picked it up and put it in his coat? Why was a bird even out in the dead of winter? What significance does the bird have? Why did Scripps marry the “elderly waitress” at the beanery? Why did she agree to marry him so suddenly? (“Half an hour later Scripps O’Neil and the elderly waitress returned to the beanery as man and wife,” declares the opening line of Chapter Eight.)

Something else about the book puzzles me.

Throughout, Hemingway breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the reader. Example, from the opening paragraph of Chapter Ten: “(Author’s Note. – This is the same day on which the story starts, back on page three.)”

Example: “(In case the reader is becoming confused, we are now up to where the story opened with Yogi Johnson and Scripps O’Neil in the pump-factory itself, with the chinook wind blowing…But please remember that, while we have gone back to Yogi Johnson, Scripps’ O’Neil and his wife are on their way to the beanery. What will happen to them there I don’t know. I only wish the reader could help me.)” from the lengthy aside at the close of Chapter Ten.

Part Three (“Men in War and the Death of Society”) sets aside the story of Scripps O’Neil and his new wife and picks up the story of Yogi Johnson, who reminisces about war experiences, goes with two Indian friends to a clandestine bar, gets tossed out of the bar by an Indian named Red Dog because his parents came from Sweden and not Indian ancestry, and promises to replace the fake arm that his little Indian friend lost during the tussle (“Don’t cry,” Yogi said to the little Indian. “I’ll buy you a new arm.”)

Hemingway closes that chapter – which is also the close of Part Three – with a lengthy aside speaking directly to the reader, even evoking his own name:

“AUTHOR’S NOTE TO THE READER

“In case it may have any historical value, I am glad to state that I wrote the foregoing chapter in two hours directly on the typewriter, and then wen out to lunch with John Dos Passos, whom I consider a very forceful writer…It was when I read this chapter aloud to him that Mr. Dos Passos exclaimed, ‘Hemingway, you have wrought a masterpiece.'”

He concludes with these ominous words:

“Now to get back to the story. It is meant in the best spirit of friendship when I saw that you have no idea, reader, what a hard chapter this is going to be to write. As a matter of fact, and I try to be frank about these things, we will not even try and write it until tomorrow.”

Indeed, Part Four is titled, “The Passing of a Great Race and the making and Marring of Americans.”

Although Hemingway, in his lengthy address to his readers, dismisses the notion that the book is autobiographical (“Please, reader, just get that idea out of your head. We have lived in Petoskey, Mich., it is true…But…the author only comes into the story in these little notes.”), I can’t help but wonder what truly is real and what isn’t.

Are we supposed to believe these author notes, in which Hemingway writes of H.G. Wells visiting at his home, of Parisian-inspired meals with friends, and of the difficulty with which he writes? Or are the notes themselves part of the book’s fictional narrative, not to be taken literally? And why does Hemingway seem to not know the true distance from city to city, allowing his characters to travel distances not possible in the real world?

One more observation: Throughout the book, Hemingway’s Scripps voices or thinks the phrase, “a thing or two.” Usually in this context: “”He knew a thing or two, alright.”

Apparently, knowing a thing or two is of value to Hemingway’s protagonist, Scripps.

The thing or two I know is that The Torrents of Spring is a book that reads almost like a Proverb, an allegory. Monty Python could not have written this absurdist tale any better. What’s real? What isn’t? Do these events really happen to these characters? Is this supposed to have profound meaning? Or is the entire tale mere entertainment?

Ah, a thing or two! What I wouldn’t give to know.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Pat

    Well, as long as old Ernie doesn’t lead you astray…then I say go for it and enjoy your travels with the Hemer. It’ll be interesting to hear you take on him. So here’s to making it through your mid-life crisis chuck-full of whatever it is you need to get to the other side.

  • John

    My teeth began to itch when I saw Hemingway referred to as Hemmer. That is disrespectful and I am sure Faulker, Fitzie, Twainie and Wolfer would agree.

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