Sunday, October 23, 2005

On Ernest Hemingway

I spent nearly the whole summer and part of the fall poking around the last haunts of EH in Ketchum and Picabo, Idaho. I freely admit to never having read his books, but since my dad always talked about him from the war I had a built-in interest. Moreover, the history of his fishing, and mine was an unavoidable connection.

The house has a forlorn air to it. Sitting all by itself on the hill above the Big Wood River as development squeezes out everything else all around the 13 acres. I stared up there and wondered how could such a successful man kill himself in such a spectacular setting, but after reading A.E. Hotchner's Papa Hemingway he lost sight of the view a long time before that final exit.

Contrary to myth he wasn't drinking a fifth of whiskey a day, but following doctor's orders and sticking to two drinks, and a strict diet. The problem was his mind was playing tricks on him creating wild paranoid delusions: FBI agents were following him all over Idaho. Banktellers were burning the midnight oil pouring over his accounts for prosecution for tax fraud. He had money, but thought he was in financial trouble and so on.

"I knew he was losing it when we had dinner at the Christiana,"Bud Purdy, the Picabo rancher, now 87 said in September at the Hemingway festival in Sun valley. "when he pointed out all the agents in the room out to get him." Doctors felt the electric shock treatments would have cured this condition had they been completed but he resisted claiming the memory loss was ruining his ability to write. Experts said this was only temporary, but he wasn't convinced, trying to jump out of the plane en route to the Mayo Clinic twice, and one other shotgun attempt at the house. Without the ability to write and drink like a fish he simply felt deep down there was no reason to go on. That was life on "his terms" he said. What he had wasn't.

This is a chilling book, but the closeness Hotchner had makes it fine first person journalism covering the final 14 years of Hemingway's rich life.

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