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Old 07-01-2012, 03:32 AM   #1
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My Old Man by Ernest Hemingway

What are your thoughts on it?
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Old 07-01-2012, 11:17 AM   #2
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I'd read the earlier Hemingway novels a long time ago and in memory, after a while Hemingway's writing style seemed a parody of itself. But I thought My Old Man quite perfect; the spareness of the style ideally suited to this story of loss and innocence corrupted, an expression of the zeitgeist of its time but also universal. My heart broke for Joe even as he started developing the callous that was going to let him survive, orphaned, in a crooked world. Also notable is how Hemingway was able to evoke the world of European horse racing with such economy. It's a gem.

And given that, I can't resist sharing that when I googled for links to the story I came across one to the tv movie version from the late 70s, staring Kristy MacNichol as "Jo," I kid you not. About equal measures of funny and painful to contemplate!

Next up for me is A Moveable Feast which is on my library stack.
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Old 07-01-2012, 03:30 PM   #3
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I think what struck me was how in only ten pages the mood shifted from the heights of joy to the depths of loss.
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Old 07-02-2012, 05:46 AM   #4
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Maybe I got a bit confused, but are we just studying one short story or a collection?
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Old 07-02-2012, 04:06 PM   #5
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I was very impressed with the skilful use of an unreliable narrator. The son clearly loves his father and in the case of the fixed race, is completely unaware that there has been a scam in process. It is this genuine childish innocence which makes for such a moving story and allows us to see the father sympathetically.

I felt that the conversation at the end with its brutal assessment of the father by his contemporaries is a very powerful conclusion as it is the first time the corruption of the world directly impinges on the child's vision.
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Old 07-05-2012, 12:12 AM   #6
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I think what struck me was how in only ten pages the mood shifted from the heights of joy to the depths of loss.
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I felt that the conversation at the end with its brutal assessment of the father by his contemporaries is a very powerful conclusion as it is the first time the corruption of the world directly impinges on the child's vision.
I thought the conclusion was good too. It was a subtle transition as Joe's innocence is waning. He is obviously impacted at the beginning when he sees the men in Milan insult his father but he doesn't really understand why someone would call his dad such a name. His dad just tells him, "You got to take a lot of things in this world, Joe." He witnesses his dad and Goerge discuss fixing the race but doesn't fully comprehend even those he "knew something big was up" and then forgets about it as he roots with the crowd for Kzar to win. His dad's response this time is a little more direct, "It sure took a great jock to keep that Kzar horse from winning". He watches his dad drinking more frequently in the Paris cafes and gaining weight and yet he reflects on those times together fondly. Finally there's the last exchange where he hears the men directly call his dad a crook and saying he "got his, all right".

How could you not feel for Joe when he hears the shot that kills Gilford and reflects that his dad is dead and why did they have to kill the horse too. Hemingway has already told you in the story that his mother is dead. So you know that Joe is now all alone, except for he's with George who we also know has not-the-greatest moral character. It made me wonder what was next for Joe in his life and how would he turn out as a man.
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Old 07-05-2012, 12:35 AM   #7
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I'd read the earlier Hemingway novels a long time ago and in memory, after a while Hemingway's writing style seemed a parody of itself. But I thought My Old Man quite perfect; the spareness of the style ideally suited to this story of loss and innocence corrupted, an expression of the zeitgeist of its time but also universal.
I like how Hemingway's style of writing is described by the iceberg theory. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iceberg_Theory

His sentences are direct. He doesn't write a lot of fluff. Yet, he tells you as much of the story by what he doesn't say as what he does say. Hills Like White Elephants is a good example where he never comes out directly to say what the couple is discussing and the reader must infer it from the dialogue. Perhaps his style was influenced by his journalism. Clearly his war experiences influenced him. My Old Man was written in the years after WWI and the world was changing then and losing its innocence in the face of modernization and coming out of such destruction and likely personal pain caused by the Great War. It must have been a very confusing time in history, very transitional.

By the way, I found the Kristy McNichol movie on YouTube. That's a scary reflection back to the 70's!

In his own words from Death in the Afternoon:
Quote:
If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.
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Maybe I got a bit confused, but are we just studying one short story or a collection?
A specific story was nominated, but I would be in favor of discussing other stories too. I bought a compilation of his stories and have been reading a few at a time. I have really enjoyed his writing. I read The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber and The Snows of Kilimanjaro which are two of his more popular stories and also quite complex and would be good for discussion. I also liked A Clean, Well-Lighted Place and I Guess Everything Reminds You of Something. As you read more of his stories you can see common themes of death, loss, loneliness, relationships between men & women and fathers & sons, war, youth versus age, etc. It enables you to compare and contrast some his stories.
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Old 07-05-2012, 03:20 PM   #8
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I really liked this story, and this is actually the first Hemingway I've ever read. I wanted to read a collection of his short stories, but time got in the way so I only read this one for now.

I am curious about one aspect of the story - when the father is meeting with the two men in Italy and it turns sour, I suppose the reason for its inclusion is for the boy to see that there are people who don't like his father. But were we supposed to realise what was happening in that meeting?
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Old 07-05-2012, 04:17 PM   #9
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sun surfer, I assumed they were horse owners or trainers who had employed Butler to win races, and who had determined that he was deliberately losing, thereby costing them money.
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Old 07-09-2012, 08:55 PM   #10
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I'm reading A Moveable Feast as I planned and ran across an interesting anecdote about My Old Man. Hemingway's wife was meeting him in Lausanne and decided to bring his entire unpublished oeuvre with her, complete with carbons. The suitcase was stolen in Gare du Nord and never recovered.

The only survivor was My Old Man which was in the mail, rejected by a magazine editor. The story made it into the anthology of Best Short Stories for the year, even though the editor stretched a point by including it, as it hadn't been published in a magazine first.
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Old 07-13-2012, 08:57 PM   #11
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sun surfer, I assumed they were horse owners or trainers who had employed Butler to win races, and who had determined that he was deliberately losing, thereby costing them money.
Ah, thanks.
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