Does anybody read Ernest Hemingway anymore? Is his work still taught in school, or has he gone the way of so many other Dead White Males? I read “Big Two-Hearted River” (which is in this collection) and THE SUN ALSO RISES for high school classes back in the Sixties, but I was already a Hemingway fan and eventually read just about everything he wrote.
And even though I’d read some of the stories separately, I read this collection when it came out in 1972. Like Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories, Hemingway’s stories about his sort-of alter ego Nick Adams weren’t written and published in chronological order, so whoever put together THE NICK ADAMS STORIES set out to rearrange them and include some material that wasn’t published in Hemingway’s lifetime to form a somewhat coherent narrative of Nick’s life. While in general I’m not sure that sort of thing is a good idea (L. Sprague De Camp did the same thing with the Conan stories, which as it turns out are much more effective if read in the order in which Howard wrote them, as the recent Del Rey editions have proven), the end result here is to make the stories read more like an episodic novel, and it works very well. Some of them, as the preface points out, make a lot more sense this way.
Of course, the stories are good anyway, no matter in which order you read them. Included are classics like “The Light of the World” (which has one of the all-time great opening paragraphs), “The Killers”, and “Big Two-Hearted River”. The previously unpublished material includes the novella-length “The Last Good Country”, which unfortunately ends in the middle of the action, as if Hemingway couldn’t figure out where to go from there. What we have of the story is really good, though, and it’s a shame he never finished it because it could have been a classic hardboiled adventure yarn.
I had a good time rereading this book, although I did notice one thing. It may be better not to read too many Hemingway stories back to back, because his style is so distinctive that after a while it starts to seem a little like a parody of itself. That’s a minor complaint, though. THE NICK ADAMS STORIES is one of the best books I’ve read this year and one that I highly recommend.