By Rebecca T. Dickinson
Of all Ernest Hemingway‘s books and stories, To Have and Have Not is not the first recommendation from an editor. The book covers I found for To Have and Have Not mostly show sailboats or ships on the ocean on a bright blue day. The cover below depicts the real colors of the book.
How I Met Hemingway
I went to a book store that sells literature for less than big brand stores. A buyer has the option to trade books for store credit. The first time I went, I thought maybe the store would play coffee house music, jazz or classical. When I walked in on a late summer day in 2011, I realized, Yeah, Becca you’re still in South Carolina.
Country music—I mean Tammy Wynette /Stand by Your Man and twang—played through the speakers. Some customers might’ve liked it. Endless biographies of Sarah Palin sat in the window. I looked for a spot to hide myself from the world and drown in words.
I hurried past the front and found the “Classics” section. I was inspired by an American Literature book given to me by my Dad’s sister. She wrote in the book, “Maybe this will be of more use to you than me.” She had worked as a librarian, but she gave me the greatest gift anyone could give me, a book. I used it to read short stories of “classic” authors and to determine if I liked their work enough to read an entire book. I took Hemingway home with me.
To Have and Have Not
Harry Morgan sets off on his first dangerous adventure from Cuba after his fishing reel breaks and he needs a way to make fast cash. He agrees to carry a group of Chinese men for good money. Once he receives the money, he kills the men’s leader. Later he is caught carrying liquor, and his boat is taken away in the time of Prohibition. His financial troubles lead him to carry a group of Revolutionaries—that stole from a bank for their cause—back to Cuba.
The book takes place during tough economic times. Hemingway examines how far one man is willing to go to support his wife and three daughters. I never felt sorry for Morgan, but I pitied his daughters. Neither Morgan nor his wife cared much for them. He is a hard and harsh man. Morgan, in my opinion, thinks he can do what he needs to do by himself.
Instead of a novel, the book reads more like a series of connected short stories. In the third part of the book Hemingway focuses on events at a bar. It includes the break-up of a marriage, and how she leaves him for another man, none of which is related to Morgan. He writes a series of characterizations of people on their yachts before the reader learns Harry Morgan’s fate. While I found some of the characters and their descriptions interesting, I could not label the book a complete novel.
I read To Have and Have Not when I challenged myself to read four other books. I read it on the same nights as Pride and Prejudice just to have something lighter to go with it. At some points, reading Hemingway’s work felt like a bad hangover when you say, “I’m never going to drink again.”
It is not a bad book. It is a masculine driven and a look at the realities of the time.
“Plenty in this town with their bellies hollering right now. But they’d never make a move. They’d starve a little every day. They started starving when they were born; some of them.”
Do not expect Morgan to have much remorse or pity for those who try to make an honest living. If you are politically correct, I would not recommend the book. If you want a challenge of classics, go for it.
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