The Short Story: Why we love them. C

The Glorious Intensity of a Great Short Story


Karl Lagerfeld’s Library
Karl Lagerfeld’s Library

“They mightn’t sell as much as a blockbuster novel, but our desire for an extraordinary short story that takes you to dark places prevails,” writes Ana Kinsella in her latest books column

JULY 05, 2019TEXTAna Kinsella

It may be hard to believe, but back in the 1920s, short fiction was big business. For the likes of F Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, cranking out a few short stories to sell to magazines like The Saturday Evening Post, with their massive circulation figures, meant enough money to drown yourself in the finest martinis New York could offer. Today, 100 years later, the publishing industry looks a little different. When was the last time you paid for some written content on the internet, by the way? The $4,000 fee that Fitzgerald received (and bear in mind that’s 1920s money; think around £200,000 when adjusted for inflation) can only be dreamed of by authors today. But the peculiar thing is that there’s still something of a market out there, albeit one that has changed considerably.

Fitz and Hem: They could write short stories that you never forgot

Take Cat Person. Towards the end of 2017, a dark political year by anyone’s standards, the New Yorker published Kristen Roupenian’s short story and inadvertently triggered a tornado of hot takes on Twitter. Cat Person, though I probably don’t need to tell you this, latched onto some part of our collective imagination, some part shared by all the women who’d gone on bad dates with gross men and who’d looked for greater meaning in the ghosting that followed. It not only demonstrated the power of a well-written short story, but also our appetite for the format. In today’s climate of snackable content and videos that cut off after 15 seconds, it might be that a short story is just the palate cleanser we need most.

But what makes a well-written short story? For readers, they need to be tight and taut, packed with only the most necessary elements to draw us in and keep us involved over the course of a handful of pages. One perfect example is Raymond Carver, the American writer whose 1970s and 1980s stories demonstrated the value of saying less. There’s no room in a short story for fuss or frills; in a 500-page novel, on the other hand, there can be plenty of opportunity to digress. A good short story feels like a tightrope act, and by the time it ends, you can feel all the emotions of a blockbuster novel, but delivered a single smooth punch that knocks you to the ground and leaves you seeing stars. 

knock out punch

This is not to say that writing a novel is by comparison an easy feat. But dip into one of Lydia Davis’s breathtakingly lucid short stories (start with Break It Down) and tell me that there isn’t something totally unique about the heft that a mere 20 or so pages can carry, when done properly. Knowing what to condense into so little space, and bringing the reader on an emotional journey along the way, is a challenge not suited to every writer.

So all that said, why would anyone bother writing them? It’s all in the arc, as Sophie Mackintosh, author of The Water Cure and award-winning short story writer, tried to explain it to me. “Short stories are inherently more playful I think,” she mused.  “I try and see them as an opportunity to take a risk every time in some way, because if it doesn’t work out you can just go and write another one. You can go really deep into a moment in the way that a novel can’t always, and the shorter, sharper arc of a truly great story can be just completely disorienting, intense in a way I think you can’t sustain over a whole book.”

Hem and Black Dog

Reading the likes of Tenth of December by George Saunders or Especially Heinous by Carmen Maria Machado reveals the shocking fervour a well-wrought story can have. “Because you can read stories in one sitting, it’s a form perfectly suited for high-intensity experiences,” explains Thomas Morris, author of the short story collection We Don’t Know What We’re Doing. “When I finish reading a great story, I feel as if I’ve come away changed. And it’s incredible to me that I can have this kind of experience in the time between waking up and having my breakfast.” According to Thomas, the main difficulty when writing a short story is “knowing when to get in and when to get out. They’re like burglaries in that regard. Sometimes you need to linger, and keep searching for the treasure. Other times, it requires a smash and grab job.” 

They mightn’t sell as much as a blockbuster novel, but as Cat Person itself proves, our desire for an extraordinary short story that takes you to dark places prevails. The perfect short story might not exist, but the very best can feel close to ideal exemplars of what can be done with words in such a short space. Lingering in the mind, like a microcosm of relationships or heartaches or middle-of-the-night fears, the power of the short story might be found in its willingness to dive right in and explore the murky depths that lie within us. 



The Latest on “A Moveable Feast” HOPING!

Ernest Hemingway’s ‘A Moveable Feast’ in the Works as TV Series From Village Roadshow

Ernest Hemingway's 'A Moveable Feast' in the Works as TV Series
New York: Scribner’s

Ernest Hemingway’s memoir “A Moveable Feast” could soon be coming to the small screen.

Village Roadshow Entertainment Group (VREG), Mariel Hemingway, John Goldstone, and Marc Rosen have closed a deal to produce a series based on the book, which was originally published in 1964. Alix Jaffe, VREG’s executive vice president of television, will oversee the project along with Jillian Apfelbaum, executive vice president of content, and Adam Dunlap, vice president of television. Scribner’s published the book in the US and Jonathan Cape published in the U.K.

“A Moveable Feast” details Hemingway’s life as a young expatriate journalist in Paris in the 1920s while he was married to his first wife, Hadley Richardson. Famous figures including F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein, and James Joyce are also featured in the book.

Hem and Hadley
Hem and Hadley wedding day

“‘A Moveable Feast’ has been my favorite book since I was 11 years old when my father took me to Paris,” Mariel said. “While reading the book together, he showed me where Papa lived (and daddy was raised) ate, wrote, and dreamed of becoming a great writer. His deep love of my grandmother Hadley and his growing passion for art is an inspiring time at the beginning of his iconic career. I want to reveal on film the coming of age story that has captivated readers and burgeoning writers for several decades.”

Rosen brought the project to VREG. His past producing credits include the Netflix series “Sense8,” “The After” for Amazon, and CBS’ “Threshold.” Goldstone’s producing credits include films like “Jonah Hex” and “Get Carter.”

Mariel Hemingway was repped by Nathan Talei and Tracy Columbus. Goldstone was repped by David Tenzer. The Hemingway Trust is represented by Lazarus & Harris.

PEN Hemingway awards 2012 with Patrick giving an intro. And thank you to Friend Don, another Hem devotee, for the reference.


Dear Readers: This is longish–a bit over an hour–but Patrick speaks within the first 10 minutes if your time is limited. This is being held at the JFK library in Boston where the Hemingway Collection is housed. I enjoyed it and thank you, Don. Best, Christine


Last Meals (Photos added by Me.) Sad but something to think about at next dinner party. Best, Christine

Hemingway liked to eat and drink and make love. As his health declined physically and mentally, these pleasures grew fainter. Medications impacted him. He loved a good meal.  A cook book has been written by Craig Boreth  (The Hemingway Cookbook) with great recipes and many background notes and anecdotes. I had a give-away here of my extra copy a few years ago and no one entered my contest. You missed out because it is a terrific book. Anyway, see below for more of Last Meals. C
Top Five Greatest Last Meals
I generally subscribe to the philosophy that you should live every day like it’s your last, which is why I detest spending entire afternoons resolving byzantine licensing issues at the DMV and why I harbor no guilt about eating dessert every single night.

If you have ever pondered your own mortality, you have probably fantasized about all the things you would say, see, and eat just before shuffling off that mortal coil. Fate doesn’t give most of us the chance to execute these designs, but that shouldn’t stop us from imagining the perfect final repast. To inspire your morbid culinary musings, here are my Top Five Greatest Last Meals consumed by some of our dearly (and not-so-dearly) departed.

5. Lobster Tail, Butterfly Shrimp, Baked Potato, and Strawberry Cheesecake

Apparently convicted murderers can be foodies too. Eschewing other more plebian (and otherwise popular) final food requests like hamburgers, fried chicken, and ice cream, Ronnie Lee Gardner dined on surf ‘n’ turf plus some all-American dessert just before his execution. I am guessing death by firing squad didn’t aid in his digestion.

4. French Onion Soup

The American queen of French cookery, Julia Child said her final “bon appétit” over a bowl of soupe à l’oignon gratinée at the very ripe old age of 91. The spry and ever fastidious Child probably grated the swiss and parmesan cheese by hand for this savory soup, and, I hope, snuck herself a few final nips of cognac.

3. New York Strip Steak, Baked Potato, Caesar Salad and Bordeaux Wine  (HEMINGWAY)meal with Ingrid Bergman

He wrote well. He ate well. A few hours before committing suicide, Ernest Hemingway had his final meal of meat and potatoes while dining with friends at the Christiania restaurant in Ketchum, Idaho. Here’s also to menu substitutions: The famed novelist supposedly requested a Caesar salad instead of boring mixed greens.

2. Bread and Wine

The original Last Supper, hosted by Chef J.C., otherwise known as the Son of God. Simple, satisfying, and, dare I say, divine? (Oh, come on. You knew that was coming.)

1. Consommé Olga, Poached Salmon with Mousseline sauce, Lamb with Mint Sauce, Roast Duck with Apple Sauce, Sirloin of Beef with Chateau Potatoes, Stuffed Summer Squash, Creamed Carrots, Green Peas, Foie Gras, Waldorf Pudding, Chocolate and Vanilla Éclairs, Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly, and Ice Cream

So read the dinner menu for the first-class passengers of the R.M.S. Titantic the night it struck an iceberg. Unlike the poor fools in steerage who probably choked down stale biscuits just before putting on their life jackets, these lucky bastards plunged into the icy depths stuffed with haute cuisine. At least rich and poor alike were able to wait the requisite hour-after-eating to swim, as the ship didn’t sink until around 2 a.m. the next morning.

How was “Papa” as a Father? Very interesting. Photos after the first added by me. Best, Christine

How Hemingway Felt About Fatherhood

Ernest Hemingway was affectionately called “Papa,” but what kind of dad was he?

By Verna KalePenn State

Ernest Hemingway was affectionately called “Papa,” but what kind of dad was he?

In my role as Associate Editor of the Hemingway Letters Project, I spend my time investigating the approximately 6,000 letters sent by Hemingway, 85% of which are now being published for the first time in a multivolume series. The latest volume – the fifth – spans his letters from January 1932 through May 1934 and gives us an intimate look into Hemingway’s daily life, not only as a writer and a sportsman, but also as a father.

During this period, Hemingway explored the emotional depths of fatherhood in his fiction. But his letters show that parenting could be a distraction from what mattered most to him: his writing.

With Gregory, i believe

‘No alibis’ in the writing business

Hemingway had three sons. His oldest, John – nicknamed “Bumby” – was born to Ernest and his first wife, Hadley, when Ernest was 24 years old. He had Patrick and Gregory with his second wife, Pauline.

Hemingway initially approached fatherhood with some ambivalence. In her 1933 memoir “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas,” Gertrude Stein recalls that one evening Hemingway came to visit and “announced…with great bitterness” that he was “too young to be a father.”

As the fifth volume of letters opens in January 1932, Hemingway is trying to finish “Death in the Afternoon,” his nonfiction account of bullfighting, in a household with a six-week-old baby, a three-year-old who ingests ant poison and nearly dies, a wife still recovering from a C-section, along with all the quotidian problems of home ownership, from a leaky roof to faulty wiring.

The end of marriage to Hadley

Hemingway explained to his mother-in-law, Mary Pfeiffer, that if his latest book fell short, he couldn’t simply take readers aside and say, “But you ought to see what a big boy Gregory is…and you ought to see our wonderful water-work system and I go to church every Sunday and am a good father to my family or as good as I can be.”

For Hemingway, work didn’t simply entail sitting at a desk and writing. It also included the various adventures he was famous for – the fishinghunting, traveling and socializing with the people he met along the way. Though he would teach the boys to fish and shoot when they were older, when they were very young he didn’t hesitate to leave them with nannies or extended family for long stretches of time.

This separation was particularly hard on the youngest, Gregory, who, from a very young age, was left for months in the care of Ada Stern, a governess who lived up to her last name. Patrick sometimes joined his parents on their travels or stayed with other relatives. Bumby, the oldest, divided his time between his father and his mother in Paris. The children’s lives were so peripatetic that at the Letters Project we maintain a spreadsheet to keep track of their whereabouts at any given time.

Hem and Bumby 1924

‘Papa’ explores fathers and sons in his fiction

However, it would not be accurate to say that Hemingway did not care about his children. In the latest volume of letters, three are addressed to Patrick, two of them decorated with circled dots, a Hemingway family tradition called “toosies,” which represented kisses.

In November 1932, with his two youngest sons ill with whooping cough and being cared for by their mother at their grandparents’ home in Arkansas, Hemingway postponed a trip to New York to stay in Key West with Bumby.

“He is a good kid and a good companion,” Hemingway wrote his editor, Maxwell Perkins, “but I do not want to drag him around the speakies [bars] too much.”

That same month Hemingway worked on the story of a father and son traveling together that would become “Fathers and Sons” in the collection “Winner Take Nothing.” It’s one of the only stories in which Nick Adams – a semi-autobiographical recurring character – is portrayed as a parent, and the reflective, melancholy piece was written just three years after Hemingway’s own father had died by suicide.

In the story, Nick is driving along a stretch of highway in the countryside with “his son asleep on the seat by his side” when he starts thinking about his father.

Nick recalls many details about him: his eyesight, good; his body odor, bad; his advice on hunting, wise; his advice about sex, unsound. He reflects on viewing his father’s face after the undertaker had made “certain dashingly executed repairs of doubtful artistic merit.”

Nick is surprised when his son starts to speak to him because he “had felt quite alone” even though “this boy had been with him.” As if reading his father’s thoughts, the boy wonders, “What was it like, Papa, when you were a little boy and used to hunt with the Indians?’”

Hem and Gregory, his third son

Hemingway’s letters show that another story in the collection, “A Day’s Wait,” was inspired by Bumby’s bout with influenza in the fall of 1932. It is a seemingly lighthearted story about a young boy’s misunderstanding of the differences between the centigrade and Fahrenheit scales of temperature. Like Bumby, the protagonist, “Schatz” – one of Bumby’s other nicknames, a term of endearment in German – attends school in France but is staying with his father when he becomes ill. Schatz had learned at school that no one can survive a temperature of 44 Celsius, so, unbeknownst to his father, he spends the day waiting to die of his fever of 102 Fahrenheit.

But there is more to this story than the twist. “You don’t have to stay in here with me, Papa, if it bothers you,” the boy tells him. “It doesn’t bother me,” his father replies. He unwittingly leaves his son to believe, for an entire day, not only that the boy is going to die, but that his death is of no importance to his father.

In this slight story – one of those stories he told Perkins was written “absolutely as they happen” – we find an unexpected Hemingway hero in the form of a nine-year-old boy who bravely faces death alone.

Hemingway with Patrick, John “Bumby”, and Gregory “Gigi”), at Club de Cazadores del Cerro, Cuba. Photograph in Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Though he once wrote that he wanted “Winner Take Nothing” to make “a picture of the whole world,” Hemingway also seemed to understand that no one ever truly knows the subjective experience of another, not even a father and son.

Verna Kale, Associate Editor, The Letters of Ernest Hemingway and Assistant Research Professor of English, Penn State

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Concussions and Suicide (Some photos added by me). Best, Christine

Did Ernest Hemingway Succumb to CTE? PBS Doc Explores His Ill-Fated Concussions

The great American novelist died more than 40 years before the discovery of the degenerative brain disease

In the beginning of the end for Ernest Hemingway, as a 1954 trip to Africa is called in the new PBS documentary “Hemingway,” the great American novelist breaks his skull for the second time in his life during a plane crash in the outback.

Trapped as flames spread to the cabin, Hemingway is forced to use his head as a battering ram to create an opening in the twisted metal of the plane’s wreckage.

It’s the last of at least five major concussive head injuries that Hemingway sustained throughout his adult life and punctuates a growing problem. This time, his symptoms include slurred speech, double-vision and recurring deafness.



The Ken Burns documentary on Hemingway features two themes — his fascination with shotguns and his many concussions — that foreshadow what’s to come. Hemingway was long assumed to have suffered from a mental illness such as biploar depression, exacerbated by his progressive alcoholism and other substance abuse. But he died more than 40 years before the discovery of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

CTE, as the brain disease is commonly known — and for which repeated concussions are a hallmark — could explain Hemingway’s fate.

CTE has been linked to the suicides of former NFL players Junior Seau and Dave Duerson and former Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski, and further, the sociopathic behavior and suicides of Aaron Hernandez and Jovan Belcher. But outside of the 2017 biography “Hemingway’s Brain” by Dr. Andrew Farah, it has not widely taken root as a theory to explain Hemingway’s suicide.



Buried at the Ketchum Cemetery in Ketchum, Idaho, it’s impossible to know now whether CTE played a role in Hemingway’s demise (a CTE diagnosis requires a postmortem scan of brain tissue). And while Burns and fellow “Hemingway” director Lynn Novick explore Hemingway’s concussions throughout the three-episode documentary, CTE is not broached.

“The last few weeks in Africa he just lost all restraint,” Hemingway’s son Patrick, now 92, says in the documentary. “And for someone as powerful, he — I really had enough. And we never saw each other again.”

Later that year, after the African trip, Hemingway’s diminished mental capacities are unmistakable when he is named the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Back at home in Cuba, he was physically unable to travel to Sweden to accept the award, so the Swedish ambassador traveled to him. Photos for the event catch a smile that conveys a lucid stream of thought and forthright happiness. But in a rare TV interview with NBC after the award was announced, he struggles mightily. He agreed to do the interview only if the questions were provided in advance. And his answers are written on cue cards.



“The book that I am writing on at present is about Africa, its people in the park that I know them,” he says in a black-and-white video, slowly and methodically, when asked about a potential next book. “The animals – comma – and the changes in Africa since I was there, last – period.”

Hemingway’s history of concussions began in World War I as part of the experiences he would use to write the 1929 novel “A Farewell to Arms.” Hemingway, an ambulance driver on the Italian front, had grown adventurous and began running minor supplies to the front lines. During one of his supply sorties, a trench mortar exploded 3 feet away.

In Paris in 1928, Hemingway mistook a hanging skylight string for a toilet cord after a night of drinking with friends. The skylight crashed onto his head. He would wear a famous forehead scar for the rest of his life.

with Bumby

There was a fall from a fishing boat near Cuba, and a serious car accident in London during World War II that required 57 stitches. Hemingway’s head smashed through the windshield and “his skull was split wide open,” according to the PBS documentary.

He was discharged from the hospital after four days, but the injury had been much worse than what was feared — a subdural hematoma, or bleeding between the brain and the skull. Blurred vision, ringing in his ears and chronic headaches resulted and persisted for nearly a year, and Hemingway began having trouble recalling words and writing legibly.

In another World War II incident, a German artillery round knocked him off a motorcycle. He flew into a ditch and his head struck a rock. A car accident years later in Cuba left him with another concussion.

Hemingway was also a boxer as a young man and played football into high school, when football helmets offered little to no protection.

“The symptoms of post-concussion syndrome were clearly described by Hemingway in various letters after different injuries, particularly after the fall on his fishing boat, and after the World War II concussions, and certainly after the plane crashes,” the author Farah said in a 2017 interview.

Erratic and violent behavior increasingly became the norm for Hemingway. That included falling in love with an 18-year-old and conveying to friends and associates he had reached a peak creatively.

“Hemingway had convinced himself he was writing better than ever. He was not,” narrator Peter Coyote says in the documentary.

He also would discuss suicide and even act it out in front of friends. In Cuba, the documentary says, with friends over for dinner, he would put his shotgun on the floor, put his finger on the trigger and put the barrel in the roof of his mouth.

“And everyone would listen to it go click, and he would lift his mouth off the barrel grinning,” the narrator says.

Hemingway was eventually admitted to the Mayo Clinic. And after thoughts of suicide reclaimed their grip, he was later readmitted. Hemingway, 61, was then again discharged despite his wife’s misgivings.

The next week at home, he shot himself in the forehead with a double-barrel shotgun.

“I was pained and grieved,” says the late longtime U.S. senator, John McCain, who revered Hemingway. “But you know, I think there are times when – I don’t agree with it, but it’s understandable – why he decided to end his life when his talent had left him.

“We sometimes talk about people and we idolize them and we give them every virtue and no vice — he had lots of vices,” McCain says. “He had tons of vices. He was a human being. And that, my friend, erases a whole lot of other, what may be, failings in life.”

What a Find: Revelations about Hemingway. Those of us who read a lot about Hemingway have heard for a while that Toby Bruce had “stuff.” Well what stuff it is indeed. Best to all, Christine

What a newly discovered treasure trove of Ernest Hemingway materials reveals about the author


In this November 1960 file photo, U.S. novelist Ernest Hemingway attending a bullfight in Madrid, Spain. The Toby and Betty Bruce Collection of Ernest Hemingway, a treasure trove of Hemingway manuscripts and artifacts, is now open to scholars and the public.
In this November 1960 file photo, U.S. novelist Ernest Hemingway attending a bullfight in Madrid, Spain. The Toby and Betty Bruce Collection of Ernest Hemingway, a treasure trove of Hemingway manuscripts and artifacts, is now open to scholars and the public.

Associated Press


After sitting for decades in a storage room in Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West, Florida, Ernest Hemingway’s favorite bar, a treasure trove of materials belonging to the author could change the way we think about the him.

Unpublished short stories, manuscripts, photos, letters and correspondences and more have been made available to the public and scholars for the first time through the Toby and Betty Bruce Collection of Ernest Hemingway at Penn State University.

From fishing logs and his American Red Cross Uniform, to drafts and galleys of his book “Death in the Afternoon,” the collection is full of artifacts that should make any Hemingway fan excited. Robert K. Elder in The New York Times even called it the “the most significant cache of Hemingway materials uncovered in 60 years.”

Boxing with F. Scott Fitzgerald

Among the findings, is an amusing unpublished three page short story about “Kid Fitz”— a satire of F. Scott Fitzgerald — as a young boxer who fights other famous authors with comedic boxing names such as “Battling Milton,” “K.O. Keats,” “Spike Shelley” and “Wild Cat Wordsworth.”

“It’s making fun of Fitzgerald’s ineptitude in physical manners,” Fitzgerald scholar Kirk Curnutt told The New York Times. “Hemingway clearly felt he’d surpassed Fitzgerald in literary and physical virility.”

Perhaps the story is a reference to the 1929 boxing match between Hemingway and Canadian writer Morley Callaghan in which Fitzgerald, who was timing the match, allegedly let the match go on for a minute too long. Hemingway blamed Fitzgerald for losing the match, and the grudge apparently lasted.

Additionally, Hemingway often compared boxing to writing, imagining himself going up against some of the world’s greatest writers.

In a 1949 letter to Charles Scribner, Hemingway writes that he could take Henry James down with one hit.

“There are some guys nobody could ever beat like Mr. Shakespeare (The Champion) and Mr. Anonymous,” Hemingway wrote. “But would be glad any time, if in training, to go twenty with Mr. Cervantes in his own home town (Alcala de Henares) and beat the (expletive) out of him.”

The “Kid Fitz” short story is a continuation of Hemingway’s pattern of comparing authors to each other through boxing imagery, but this time, rather than comparing himself to others, he shows Fitzgerald engaging in this same act of authorial comparison.

“In a way, it’s an odd admission of delusion,” Curnutt said. “Hemingway would claim he could take world-renowned writers in the ring with the same sort of obliviousness he’s attributing to Kid Fitz here as he gets his nose knocked off.”

Musing on death and suicide

In some less light-hearted writings found in the collection, Hemingway contemplates death and suicide, over 35 years before he would take his own life.

In personal writings from the archive, dated March 6, 1926, he writes, “When I feel low I like to think about death and the various ways of dying and I think probably the best way, unless you could arrange to die some way while asleep, would be to go off a liner at night.”

“For so many years I was afraid of death and it is very comfortable to be without that fear. Of course it may return again at any time,” Hemingway continued.

The writings suggest that the “author’s own suicidal ideation started earlier and was perhaps deeper than scholars previously knew.” Elder writes.

From his personal writings, scholars will have much more information on the inner workings of Hemingway’s mind than they’ve had before. As Elder states in his article in The New York Times, this is just a first look at many more potential findings from this exciting collection.

As scholars dig deeper into the collection, we will find out even more about the personal life — the inner thoughts, the writing process, the contemplations of suicide — of the seemingly larger-than-life author.


Mental Health and Ernest Hemingway: Interesting article (All but the top photos added by me.)

Connecticut Public


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How mental health struggles wrote Ernest Hemingway’s final chapter

July 1961 brought a sudden end to Ernest Hemingway’s storied life.

He and his wife Mary were settling into a new home on the banks of the Big Wood River in the Sawtooth Mountains of Ketchum, Idaho—better known as the ski paradise of Sun Valley. They had fled their longtime estate in Cuba shortly after the Batista regime was toppled by Fidel Castro. All of Hemingway’s family was expected to visit Ketchum at the end of the month to celebrate his 62nd birthday on July 21.

But on a Sunday morning — July 2, 19 days short of Hem’s birthday — the famed writer awoke early in a discombobulated and distressed mood. He left his bedroom and descended into the basement of his new home — described by The New York Times as a “modern concrete house” — where he unlocked his gun cabinet and grabbed his favorite shotgun and some ammunition. He climbed back up the stairs, walked across the living room, and stopped in the house’s oak-paneled entryway. The rest is literary history — and part of a family’s legacy of pain.

His wife recalled being awakened to “the sound of a couple drawers banging shut.” She went downstairs to ascertain the cause of the racket only to find a crumpled “Papa” on the floor.

When the Times ran its obituary of Hemingway on the front page of its July 3, 1961, issue, Mary Hemingway’s statement on her husband’s death was clear, concise and misleading: “Mr. Hemingway accidentally killed himself while cleaning a gun this morning at 7:30 AM. No time has been set for the funeral services, which will be private.” For decades, the myth of an accidental death dominated the biographical accounts of his life.

Hem and Mary

Hemingway was well-versed in the handling of guns and rifles. He received his first shotgun from his father when he was only 10. He famously wrote about his exploits on the battlefields of World War I and the Spanish Civil War, as well as his hunting trips in places as diverse as Walloon Lake near Petoskey, Michigan, to big-game safaris in Africa. If this fact wasn’t enough to raise an eyebrow about his death being accidental, there was also the issue of his father’s death in 1928.

A depressed and diabetic Dr. Clarence Hemingway fatally shot himself at age 57. The doctor, a general practitioner, used an old .32 Smith and Wesson revolver owned by his father. At the time, Hemingway wrote to his then mother-in-law, Mary Pfeiffer, “I’ll probably go the same way.” In his 1940 novel, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” the main character’s father commits suicide with the same rifle his father had used during the Civil War.

In 1961, mental health remained poorly understood, stigmatizing, and rarely discussed in most American families, including the Hemingways. Hence, no one could fathom why the most successful writer of the day — a winner of both the Pulitzer Prize (1953) and Nobel Prize (1954) — would kill himself. The back story, however, is far more conclusive.

Beginning in the late 1950s, Hemingway was working on his memoir of Paris during the 1920s, “A Moveable Feast.” For the first time in his fabled writing career, he was having trouble with writing projects and needed the help of his friend and biographer A.E. Hotchner. Hemingway often seemed disoriented and confused, which disturbed the macho writer to no end. Hemingway worried about financial security, even though his novels have never gone out of print and still sell hundreds of thousands of copies each year. In moments that struck Hotchner as paranoid, Hemingway was concerned about being followed by the FBI. Years later, however, Hotchner would learn that his friend had indeed been surveilled since the 1940s.

In December of 1960, Hemingway was admitted to the Mayo Clinic using a false name. He stayed there for two months, under the guise of being treated for hypertension, but was really there for severe clinical depression. He is believed to have undergone electroshock convulsive therapy at least 15 times. His psychiatrist, Dr. Howard Rome, gave him a clean bill of health and the writer was released in January of 1961.

But Hemingway continued his downward spiral. His wife Mary found him in April of 1961 holding his shotgun in a self-menacing manner and rushed him first to the Sun Valley Hospital, and later to the Mayo Clinic for more electroshock convulsive therapy. During the trip to Rochester, Minnesota, the plane stopped to refuel in South Dakota. On the airfield, Hemingway reportedly tried to walk into the propellers, which the pilot cut short just in time. Hemingway returned home on June 30, 1961, days before his death.

We now know that Hemingway suffered from severe depression, paranoid delusions and bipolar disease exacerbated by a history of alcoholism, severe head injuries and a genetic disorder of iron metabolism known as hemochromatosis, which can also cause intense fatigue and memory loss. Seven of Hemingway’s close family relations died by suicide, including his father, sister, brother and much later his granddaughter, the supermodel Margaux Hemingway.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, a preventable fate that has been increasing by 1 to 2 percent each year. The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics recently reported that “the age-adjusted suicide rate among females increased 55 percent, from 4.0 (per 100,000) in 1999 to 6.2 (per 100,000) in 2018, while the rate for males increased 28 percent, from 17.8 to 22.8. Suicide rates were consistently higher for males compared with females over the entire time period.”

Failure to recognize, discuss and treat mental health disorders, as well as physical maladies that yield severe depression, are among the leading culprits behind these suicides. Substance abuse, addiction and serious life problems, such unemployment, poverty, trauma, and the break-up of families, can also lead to suicide.

In recent years, Ernest’s granddaughter, the actress Mariel Hemingway, has been an advocate for recognizing depression and bipolar disease early, getting treatment for these problems, and suicide prevention programs. Fortunately, we live in an era where these mental health illnesses are no longer issues to be ignored or ashamed of, and most of these conditions are treatable, though accessing help can still be a hurdle for many.

It’s also worth recalling the title of Hemingway’s best novel, which he began on his birthday, July 21, 1925 — “The Sun Also Rises.” For once treatment begins, a new day can be restored.


Original Movie Trailer to The Sun Also Rises. Acting styles have changed so there are some pretty stilted scenes and hyperbole that today does make you laugh a bit.. And Jake looks older than i’d think. And still . . . fairly romantic