Book Review: “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway

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I was in eighth grade when I fell violently and happily into Ernest Hemingway’s writing. We were reading his famous novella, The Old Man and The Sea, and I remember everyone in my class hating it. I loved it, though. Here we were, reading what I understood as literature, and not only was it about an interesting subject (a washed-up fisherman trying desperately to catch and keep a giant fish alone in the open ocean), but it was accessible. My eyes flew over the pages, and I couldn’t stop myself from getting lost in the words.

Authors have been trying to write like Hemingway for years for a reason: his writing is legible. You can understand what he’s trying to say. It’s that brilliant writing that not only says something worthwhile or meaningful but says it in a way that you can grasp without having to open up a dictionary.

Hemingway was my favorite author until I became a feminist and started reading Haruki Murakami (who is not a feminist, either, but I still like him). Hemingway isn’t known for writing well about women, and he wasn’t always the best in his relationships with women in real life. Still, I come back to his books because they have something to say, even if it isn’t always my favorite way of saying it. Plus, it’s a joy to read stories that are well-written but still easy on my tired eyes and blessedly not that long. That’s why I decided to re-read The Sun Also Rises during quarantine.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What The Sun Also Rises gets right: I’ve read this book maybe twice, when I was in high school and wanted to read everything Hemingway had ever written. I’ve got to say that reading it as an adult was very different. Suddenly all of the subtext made sense to me, and not really in a good way. For example, one of the main characters, Brett, is impulsive and promiscuous, hurting every man in her path. However, when we learn about her background as a victim of domestic abuse, her current actions seem like coping mechanisms instead of just selfishness. Hers is a sad story- in fact, most of the characters in this book are sad due to their physical and emotional scars from past problems. That’s why they treat one another so badly.

Although it made for a sad read, it was good to learn more about each character and put two-and-two together about the hints that Hemingway left in this book. The main themes are unrequited love, struggling with feelings of uselessness, dealing with alcohol addiction, and the thrills of traveling and experiencing other cultures. You will feel like you, too, are in Spain with this wild group of people- for better or for worse.

 

What The Sun Also Rises gets wrong: This book is infamous for the characters’ anti-Semitic views. Even if it is an accurate representation of the time, it’s still not fun to read about the slurs and racism shown toward the Jewish character, Robert Cohn.

There are a few minor characters who are black, but they are more stereotypical caricatures than real people, and this “casual” racism will make you squirm. A racial slur is used to reference the black characters.

 

Who should read The Sun Also Rises: Fans of crisp writing, weird characters that are loosely based on real people, lots of drama, and the 1920s.

 

Who shouldn’t read The Sun Also Rises: If you didn’t like F. Scott Fizgerald’s The Great Gatsby, don’t read this one. It’s similar to Gatsby in that it’s about a group of people with annoying habits and problems that they don’t communicate well about. It’s an examination of a generation that people now don’t know much about personally- we only really know them and their struggles through books like this.

 

The Sun Also Rises is available at the library.

Content note: violence (in particular, bullfighting), racism, some suggestive scenes (which are mostly inferred or referenced in conversation), language, substance abuse.

Book Review: “Atonement” by Ian McEwan

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*This post contains mild spoilers for Atonement

First things first: Atonement is a controversial book, but there can be no doubt that it is well-written. Ian McEwan gets inside the minds of his characters with a precision that is almost uncanny- how can an adult man so accurately capture the motivations of a dreamy (and judgemental) thirteen-year-old girl? Yet the story unravels in flowing prose that compels you to read more, and you believe the characters, as dysfunctional as they are.

To summarize without spoiling, Atonement is mostly about the connection between a  young man and woman and how it is dangerously misunderstood by a thirteen-year-old girl. This leads to a great injustice, tearing apart the family at the story’s center. McEwan also throws in a lot about WWII in the second half of the story and how simply trying to survive can alter one’s reality.

What Atonement gets right: the writing. To me, Ian McEwan’s style is like a mixture of F. Scott Fitzgerald (modern) and Jane Austen (Regency era). That’s hard to pull off, but Ian McEwan succeeds. His story is all about the characters and their inner workings, so the plot revolves around their reactions and decisions. Thus, the different events in Atonement make sense to the reader because we know what’s really going on with the characters (even if they don’t), giving us the satisfaction of being “in on it.”

What Atonement gets wrong: In the #MeToo era, it’s hard to read about a rape that essentially goes unpunished. The main witness to the crime (who is not credible at all) takes control of the situation, which leads to the actual victim essentially not even having to give a testimony. This is an obstruction of justice, and McEwan’s attitude toward the young girls involved is detached at best and coldhearted at worst. In fact, most of the adults in the book are extremely neglectful of the children they are supposed to be taking care of, and McEwan writes as if this is normal and expected (instead of, you know, wrong).

Who should read Atonement: I’d recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys books about fictional crime, in-depth character analyses, WWII, nursing, literature in general, and very complicated romances.

Who shouldn’t read Atonement: People who like books where they can escape and be happy in that escape. This book isn’t light or positive.

 

Ian McEwan’s new science fiction book, Machines Like Me, is due out this year. You can find two of McEwan’s books, including Atonement, here at the library. 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “The Book of Eli”

It seems that if you had to sum up what this current decade’s #1 movie trend has been, it would have to be the setting of POST-APOCALYPTIC.  For one reason or another we are drawn to fantasies of the end of the world, from zombies, robots, climate change, alien invasion or good old fashioned nuclear war. Actually people seem obsessed with not exactly the world ending but how they are going to survive once it has ended. Human beings are definitely optimistic about our abilities and chances to not only survive but thrive in the event of the Apocalypse.

The Book of Eli is not your standard post-apocalyptic film in the genre. While it does offer amazing visuals and brutal action, it also tells a story of hope and destiny that we will never be truly alone and that Someone is watching out for us- we just might need a little faith.

The story revolves around a lone wanderer, Eli, played by Denzel Washington. Eli is a survivor of a cataclysmic war that has transformed the earth into a barre, scorched landscape where you are either predator or prey to a host of cutthroats and raiders. Eli boasst a stoic and non-confrontational attitude but, when threatened, he has amazing fighting skills and seems to effortlessly cut a path through highwaymen and bandits until he reaches a populated desert settlement. The local strong man is that of the character aptly named Carnegie played by Gary Oldman. Carnegie is a ruthless ruler who leads a large gang of henchmen and dreams of conquering other towns to grow his power. He frequently sends his men out on raids for supplies and to search for something special that will aid him in taking over other towns.

The next character to appear is that of Solara played by Mila Kunis. She works in the local inn as a house keeper and bartender; she is protected from Carnegie’s minions because her blind mother, Claudia, played by Jennifer Beals, is Carnegie’s personal courtesan. Things soon come to a head as it is discovered that Eli possess the very thing Carnegie has been after. This leads to a confrontation of biblical proportions. Soon Eli and Solara find themselves on the run from Carnegie and his minions, hoping to find sanctuary further west.

The Book of Eli turns an often over-saturated genre into something with a more meaningful message that Hollywood often avoids all together. Denzel is as charismatic as ever, and Oldman, always known for his ability to play great believable villains, doesn’t let us down. This film came out at the same time as James Cameron’s Avatarso it was somewhat over shadowed by the other film. It was not until many years later that I came across it. I think it’s a great film and if you haven’t yet seen it, you should give it a watch.

*Be mindful: this movie does contain some intense scenes of action and violence and some language.

**written by Matthew Beyer.

***You can check out The Book of Eli from the library.

 

 

 

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Fargo”

The Coen brothers have consistently produced groundbreaking and hallmark films, and their 1996 motion picture Fargo stands the test of time.  This film features a dark comedic take on a criminal plot that spirals out of control leading from one disaster to another.  This film stars Francis McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, Harve Presnell and Kristin Rudrud.

The film’s plot revolves around Jerry Lundegaard (Macey), who is a sleazy car salesmen that has fallen into debt due to fraud and money laundering and orchestrated a plot to have his own wife Jean Lundegaard (Kristin Rudrud) kidnapped and ransomed to her wealthy father Wade Gustafson (Harve Presnell). The two small-time bumbling criminals Mr. Lundergarrd entrusts with this scandalous endeavor are Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi), who plays a tough talking albeit inept wannabe gangster, and his partner Gaear Grimsrud, played by the fantastic character actor Peter Stormare as a soft-spoken sociopath with a thousand yard stare.

The protagonist at the heart of this story is Chief of Police Marge Gunderson played by Francis McDormand. This role would go on to net McDormand an Academy Award for Best Actress. Marge Gunderson is a pregnant police chief struggling to piece together the trail of murder and mayhem left in the wake of the incompetent henchmen that Jerry Lundegaard hired.

What makes this film so memorable is the setting in which it takes place:  the backcountry of Minnesota and the snowy and glamorous metropolitan expanse of Fargo, North Dakota. The geographic location was a key choice for the Coen brothers due to the particular accent that is spoken there.  The dialect featured so heavily in the film is that of “Minnesota nice.” As part of its Wikipedia entry states:

The cultural characteristics of “Minnesota nice” include polite friendliness, an aversion to confrontation, a tendency toward understatement, a disinclination to make a fuss or stand out, emotional restraint, and self-deprecation.

With this in mind, you’ll find yourself incapable of keeping yourself from quoting this film’s unique dialogue.

Finally, I feel that William H. Macey’s portrayal of Jerry Lundegaard is superb. Jerry Lundegaard is a hopeless loser and a sorry excuse for a criminal. He time and again fails to cover his tracks and his pathetic downfall is a great example of why crime doesn’t pay. Marge Gunderson sums it up perfectly in one of her last lines at the end as she laments the calamity of the whole situation. “And for what? For a little bit of money? There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that?”

Fargo is a great dark comedy drama, but it’s not suitable for the whole family as it is rated R for violence and language. Whether you are watching it for its memorable quirky dialogue or its star-studded performances, Fargo is a great film don’tcha know.

****And it’s available for check out at Union’s Library***

*written by Matthew Beyer