In 1967 The Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabokov, known for his particularly sharp judgements of other writers, said about Hemingway: “As to Hemingway, I read him for the first time in the early 40s, something about bells, balls and bulls, and loathed it”. He was probably talking about Fiesta; but it’s also true that Nabokov’s joke mocks some of the main themes that can be found in the Hemingway’s corpus.
Indeed, The Forty-Nine Stories embody most of Hemingway’s prominent themes: the conflict between man and nature, solitude, incommunicability, virile effort, an almost mythic exaltation of bravery. And above all, a sense of death dripping into the silences and cracks of human life. And not even Nabokov was immune to the charm of Hemingway’s style: brisk, rhythmic, his sentences brief and substantial. Every page has a pattern of repetitions, which are intentionally not avoided. Thus, he’s often considered a precursor of minimalism and associated with other writers like Raymond Carver, or even Bret Easton Ellis. But the vitality, the adventures, the frenzy of a life spent all over the world permeate Hemingway’s writing and stories, and it’s impossible not to hear an echo of the writer’s own experiences. Hemingway – as another American writer, Jack London, almost 40 years earlier- was a man who loved, lived, and wrote with such intensity that he was consumed by it.
His writing – dry, never excessive, but at the same time evocative and iridescent – fits well with the short story’s format, and in fact, the collection of The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories contains some gems, like the first, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber (the story of a man that become great while facing death), or Indian Camp (birth, death, survival and powerlessness all narrate in less than five pages).