Islands in the Stream, by Ernest Hemingway

My Copy: 9780684837871 (image from My copy has the old Scribner cover art I can’t find for an image)

I’m batting 0 for 2 so far with Ernest Hemingway. I stopped at page 134, and was so frustrated I went straight to bed afterward, determined to put it in my catch-and-release pile.

Islands in the Stream I can’t quite figure out, mainly because each “descriptive blurb” about the book only talks about how it was finally published nine years after his death to great celebration. No blurb to talk about the basic plot of the story; it’s like you had to know somebody who already read it to get the story.

A book version of a speakeasy. Fitting, considering the author and character traits.

The story follows Thomas Hudson (who is ALWAYS referred to by Hemingway with his full name, which makes little sense because he does have a son named Tom, but he’s known as “young Tom”). he’s an artist living in Bimini who’s had some bad luck with women (or at least getting married to one). He has children that come to visit him at the island for a few weeks in the summer and you get a little gist of the family. By that I mean very little gist. There’s also Roger, who is a friend of Thomas’ and tends to get in lots of trouble while Thomas is very laid back.

That’s about all I can get out of the story at this point, and I just was not interested enough to continue.

Now, I can appreciate Hemingway and the tradition he came from. I thought it was neat that he was getting away from the overly-descriptive works that have come before he broke out in his career, namely the pages and pages of descriptions of meadows, skies, trees, houses, etc. Hemingway was good at jumping into a little basic info about a character and location. Those things were a breath of fresh air.

However, when you’ve got a nice long piece of work, a little more character description and location description couldn’t hurt.

And then there’s the dialogue. His choices in how dialogue is treated really takes me away from the characters.

I find the dialogue baffling. I mean, some very trivial things are given pages of actual quotations, but could easily be wrapped up in a short paragraph or short broken clusters. Why do we need a page between Thomas and his employee about him having a cold beer with his breakfast, and then describing the breakfast with cold beer? You could handle that in a paragraph with maybe three lines of dialogue to break it up and extend a bit of personality.

I could not handle 300 more pages of those dialogue choices, that’s for sure.

Frankly, the worst thing so far about Hemingway characters is that I could care less about the characters. They’re so bland, like blank slates who never give you a real indication as to what’s going on in their head, or what their motivations are.

This book bored me–all I’ve seen is how great it is on the back cover blurb, but no hint of the plot. I was looking for a spoiler free plot blurb to see what the heck this book’s about and essentially found more “Hemingway’s posthumous publication is genius” notes.

Ugh–I can’t get into the characters, and I don’t care much about the characters. I was annoyed how I got to the fishing trip with young David and the swordfish, which seemed to be promising, so I kept with it past my 100 page barrier. After 30 pages, he’s still got the fish on the line and hasn’t gotten it in the boat, still fighting. Yes, I know wrestling a thousand-pound fish on the line is hard work, especially for a young kid, but heavens–how much of it do we readers need to see? And how nonchalant can the adults be that this kid is trying to hang onto this fish and they’re drinking a beer or just waiting around for the kiddo to finish.

Now, you might think I’d be slamming The Old Man and the Sea, which definitely covered this fishing territory–and FAR better. I admit I hated it when I first read it, but I think it was having to read it for school, read it for symbolism and all these Christ analogies that we were supposed to see. However, I found that story compelling on its own because yes, it’s an old man and a fish (like the boy and the fish), but you got to know the old man and care about his desperation, about what he needs to do. You’re rooting for the guy.

In Islands in the Stream, David’s working hard on the fish to get it in the boat by himself, and he gets a little development (mostly afterward) but the characters are boring as hell otherwise.

Too boring for me to stick with.

Ugh, very little to get excited about for me in this one. Hoping his short stories are better (I’ve got a book of those now).

Not my cup of tea–find yourself a spoiler-free book jacket blurb and see what you think about it.

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