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What We’re Reading: A Moveable Feast

2014 October 30
by Taylor Trauger

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moveable feastA Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition by Ernest Hemingway (Scribner, 2009)

Ernest Hemingway never gave a title to the memoir he wrote about his life in Paris in the 1920s. He hadn’t finished the book before he died, and it was published posthumously with the help of his wife Mary. However, the title was chosen from something Hemingway had once said: “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

Paris stayed with Hemingway long after he left it. Though he very well may have thought about or planned to write a memoir about his years in Paris in the 1920s, he didn’t start what he temporarily called “The Paris Sketches” until 1957, after having lived in Key West, Cuba, Spain, and throughout Europe during WWII. In A Moveable Feast he writes about Michigan while he’s living in Paris, and he finally writes about life in Paris once he’s been immersed in many other places. I had a similar experience when it came to reading the memoir.

When I was studying abroad in Paris, I bought this copy of A Moveable Feast without knowing it was the restored edition, or understanding what that meant, (read the introduction—it’s worth it). I said to myself, “I am going to buy A Moveable Feast at Shakespeare & Company in Paris.” And that’s exactly what I did, but I didn’t even open its pages until two years after I’d last been in Paris, just a few weeks ago. I was glad that I waited, because though I made a point to visit many of the places Hemingway has written about, it was rewarding to visit Paris through his own eyes.

Mary Hemingway and an editor at Scribner gathered the manuscript as it was in 1960, heavily edited it, and published the book in 1964. However, Hemingway continued to work on the manuscript until the spring of 1961, and for the first time in 2009 it was published as Hemingway had last left it, including some unfinished and never-before-published chapters.

Though I never read the non-restored edition, I highly recommend picking up a copy and exploring Hemingway’s memories as he last left them. As a writer, he often struggled with finalizing his work, and images of his manuscript show how many meticulous changes he has made in just a brief paragraph.

Hemingway wrote a forward to the chapter about F. Scott Fitzgerald, and here are some examples of its earlier versions:

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The forward in the first edition includes the lines crossed out by Hemingway. The restored edition is published with Hemingway’s own changes made:

His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think. He was flying again and I was lucky to meet him just after a good time in his writing if not a good one in his life.

Of course there is not much wrong with the original version of the forward, but writing is revising, isn’t it? And Hemingway revised his writing beyond what we’ve seen in previous publications of the text. When the first edition was published posthumously, the second person point of view was removed from a handful of pages, and his reflections on his first marriage and divorce were cut by his fourth wife Mary. The heart of the story, the tales of the Lost Generation, and the sentiment of being a struggling writer in Paris were never lost in publication, but I found that some of my favorite moments while reading were those that were unique to the restored edition.

When written in the second person, I felt that Hemingway’s thoughts were speaking directly to the reader, inviting them to join him in Paris. It was a delightfully nerdy as watching Midnight in Paris for the first time, or going to Brasserie Lipp and ordering the exact same meal that Hemingway ate and wrote about in A Moveable Feast (cevelas, sausage smothered in mustard, and a cold beer). The second person point of view brought me back there. The book begins:

Then there was the bad weather. It would come in one day when the fall was over. You would have to shut the windows in the night against the rain and the cold wind would strip the leaves from the trees in the Place Contrescarpe.

Who, me? You need me to shut the windows? I know I’m an absurd romantic when it comes to Paris, and maybe I’m just a sucker for effective run-on sentences, but I’m starting to feel the cold wind he describes.

Whether you’ve been to Paris or not, I urge you to experience it with Hemingway in hand.

What do you think of posthumous publications, such as this? And the juxtaposition of an author’s original notes, and restored editions? There’s a conversation that happens there, as we’ve seen here. What does that mean to you?

 

Three Things: The Ghost Edition, II

2014 October 27

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Happy Halloween week, dear writers! Let’s get in the mood by writing about some ghostly apparitions. Will they be frightful? Mournful? Playful? As always, I’ve collected three images to get you started. Behold! The spirits!

 

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Deborah Turbeville, Untitled, from Unseen Versailles, 1980. Photograph. 

 

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. - caption: 'What fearful shapes and

Frederick Simpson Coburn, What fearful shapes and shadows beset his path amidst the dim and ghastly glare of a snowy night!, 1899. Illustration for Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1899.

 

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William Hope, Man with a female spirit, c. 1920. Photograph. National Media Museum Collection, Bradford, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom.

 

What We’re Reading: Baboon

2014 October 23

What We're ReadingbaboonBaboon by Naja Marie Aidt (Two Lines Press, 2014)

This isn’t a book where you’re going to get emotionally attached to the characters; instead, you’re going to wince when you recognize how lifelike their lives truly are: chaotic, sometimes violent, and messy. And believe me, you’re not going to want to look away. Baboon is a collection of short stories that, like the cover art, are magnified at the moment of destruction or implosion. Energy thrums beneath the daily surface for these characters—a dark energy that threatens to unwind the very structure of their worlds. Adultery, child abuse, crumbling relationships, beasteality, sex addiction, and physical ailments are all present in this collection. These stories enter the minds of people who do the things we say we could never do, but despite that, happen on a daily basis everywhere.

Aidt is a prolific Danish poet and author, and has won much recognition, including the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize for Baboon in 2008. This English edition of Baboon is translated by Denise Newman (who has translated many well-known Danish authors) so we can finally devour Aidt’s work here in English-speaking countries.

The characters, while not warm and fuzzy, are expertly crafted and hyper-real. Aidt is master at creating characters that are unaware of the magnifying glass hovering above their daily lives. The voice of these characters is unassuming, nonchalant almost, but that’s why the moments in these stories pack such a punch—they sneak up on you and engulf all of your senses. These aren’t characters who experience the clearly positive type of “personal growth” that is common in self-discovery story lines. Rather, these are characters undergo change and growth, yes, but it’s more of an murky unveiling of their true, raw thoughts and feelings.

This excerpt is from the opening story “Bulbjerg”, about a married couple who is dangerously lost in some woods with their 6 year old son and a dachshund. Juxtaposed with the chaos and tension of that situation is what is going on in the husband’s mind:

When I woke up this morning, you were watching me. We were both lying on our sides, facing each other, and you were watching me. I smiled. The light fell from the skylight in a sharp diagonal line onto the white duvet. I felt like I was being spied on. Then Sebastian was standing in the doorway. He said the dog had peed on the rug in the living room. A little while later I could hear you laughing and chatting in the kitchen. We used to do it on that rug. We were here in the fall, it was cold, and in the evenings we lit the fire. I slowly peeled the clothes off her, and she looked beautiful on the red Persian rug, in the warm light from the fire. She spread her legs. She looked at me with dark, almost sorrowful eyes. Your sister has a tighter cunt than you. I wonder whether you’re born that way or if it’s just because she’s so young.

Aidt sneakily shifts to the narrator talking about his wife, to then her sister, when you begin to see the real situation for what it is.  Pronouns are significant here; in this story, for example, “you” is used throughout to refer to the narrator’s wife. The word holds an accusatory tone throughout, a metaphorical jabbing finger. Then, Aidt switches without warning to “she” to denote that no, he’s not talking about having sex with his wife on the rug, but rather her sister with whom he is having an affair. It’s a subtle shift, but one that hits with purpose.

In “Bulbjerg”, both of these situations (being lost in the woods, and the affair) build steadily until they boil over. Most of the stories in the collection contain more than what meets the eye; so much of the building action happens in the character’s heads with their internal thoughts. Aidt shows us what would really happen if we could read people’s minds. And Aidt doesn’t give us a clean conclusion; we’re left with a mess which can be unsettling at times.

Aidt writes in a very straight-forward fashion, with short, clipped sentences that add to the matter-of-fact nature of these characters. It also juxtaposes the moments of chaos starkly. Take the opening of the story “Torben and Maria”, which is about a mother who abuses her toddler son:

What can you say about Maria? That her hair is blonde and dark at the roots? That she loves roast pork with cracklings? That as a child she loved to look out at the flat fields at dusk in February? Her eyes rested there, under the low sky, in the gray gray light, until it got so dark that she could see only her face reflected on the window, the green lamp on the table behind her, and all the way back to her mother, leaning against the door smoking.

The window, a black mirror.

Maria.

She hits her small child, until the screaming stops. It’s a boy and his name is Torben. Not many people call their sons that any more. Ah, Maria! You can say this about her: “She gave her son the name Torben.”

Soon he’ll be two. He’s a little weakling, and there’s nothing special about him.

This story is painful to read, but also shows how every day situations like this are; people abuse their children, and either no one knows or sometimes people know (such as other family, in this case) but no one does anything about it until it’s in the news or someone else finds out. It’s stories like this which make Baboon get under your skin; they linger there, a bad taste in your mouth, hyper-aware of all the dirty laundry underneath the thin scrim of “proper” social standards. You look around at the world around in a different way after reading Baboon, wondering what is actually going on in the minds of the woman in front of you at Walgreen’s, or the guy running around Lake Harriet.

What other books have shifted the way you view everyday life? Have you encountered other writers that juxtapose straight-forward style with magnified moments of chaos?

 

Three Things: The Field Edition

2014 October 20

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This week I’m in an open field. Well, alright, not actually in a field, but that’s where my brain is this week. A big, wide, open field of… what, exactly? Possibilities? Uniformity? Mysteries? Monotony? That’s for you to decide.

 

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Taca Zhijie Sui, Untitled, from Odes of Zhou series. Photograph. www.tacasui.com

 

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John Singer Sargent, Thistles, 1883-1884. Oil on canvas. Private collection.

 

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Chris Faust, Oat Field, Kandiyohi City, MN, 1994. Photograph. www.chrisfaustphoto.com