Paul Hendrickson’s previous book, Sons of Mississippi, won the 2003 National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction. Here, he offers a brilliantly conceived and illuminating
reconsideration of a key period in the life of Ernest Hemingway that will alter the way he is perceived and understood. Focusing on the years 1934-1961 – from Hemingway’s pinnacle roost in American letters until his suicide – Hendrickson traces the writer’s exultations and despair around the one constant in his life during this time: his beloved boat, Pilar. We follow him from Key West to Paris, to New York, Africa, Cuba, and finally Idaho, as he wrestles with his best angels and worst demons. Whenever he could, he returned to his beloved fishing cruiser, to exult in the sea, to fight the biggest fish he could find, to drink, to entertain celebrities and friends and seduce women, to be with his children. But as he began to succumb to the diseases of fame, we see that Pilar was also where he cursed his critics, saw marriages and friendships dissolve, and tried, in vain, to escape his increasingly diminished capacities. Drawing on previously unpublished material, including interviews with Heminway’s sons, Hendrickson shows that for all the writers boorishness, depression, and alcoholism, and despite his choleric anger, he was capable of remarkable generosity – to struggling writers, to lost souls, to the dying son of a friend. And, we see most poignantly his relationship with his youngest son Gigi, a doctor who lived his adult life mostly as a cross-dresser, and died squalidly and alone in a Miami women’s jail. Essay on Sources, Selected Bibliography, Index. Illus., b&w photos. 531p.
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