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Walk on Water: A Memoir

Walk on Water: A Memoir

by Lorian Hemingway

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From catfishing in Mississippi as a young girl to battling marlin in the Caribbean, Lorian Hemingway has always felt most comfortable with a fishing pole in hand. But for many years, it was alcohol that held prominence in her life, almost causing her to drown in the family legacy. Walk on Water is Lorian Hemingway's amazing story of how her one true


From catfishing in Mississippi as a young girl to battling marlin in the Caribbean, Lorian Hemingway has always felt most comfortable with a fishing pole in hand. But for many years, it was alcohol that held prominence in her life, almost causing her to drown in the family legacy. Walk on Water is Lorian Hemingway's amazing story of how her one true passion-fishing-saved her life. With humor and startling honesty, Hemingway wryly acknowledges how fishing is more than a metaphor for her salvation-it allowed her to feel connected to something as a child, living with her alcoholic mother and abusive stepfather. It helped her to heal after a to-hell-and-back fight for sobriety. And it led her to the discovery that family consists not necessarily of the people you are born with, but of those you choose to let into your heart. From despair to hope, from loss to recovery, Walk on Water is a remarkable tale of strength told by a born storyteller.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A powerful, moving memoir and ode to fishing . . . Eloquent, raw, funny, this Hemingway has a voice all her own."-the New York Times Book Review
"Enchanting and excruciating, delicious and chilling, a memoir full of pain and courage-a drama of self-deception finally conquered by truthfulness . . . at its heart a book about life, fear, self, survival."-The Baltimore Sun
"The story of her recovery may be the most grueling one you've ever read. . . . A brutally honest story."-St. Petersburg Times
The Barnes & Noble Review
May 1998

In spare language that cuts through to the truth, Lorian Hemingway tells of two lives, both her own. Walk on Water is the memoir of a woman who could find solace solely in alcohol and fishing, and in this brave look back on her darkest days, she reveals the battle she fought, which shadowed that of her famous grandfather, and describes how she almost lost the same war he did. Through her honest view of humanity she is able to focus with grace and humor on the pivotal moments of a life fraught with bitter heartache and stilled by a keen eye that could find magic in nature.

Ironically, it was on a trip to the Big Two-Hearted River, which had been made famous by her grandfather Ernest, that Lorian realized she had given her life over to her addiction. It was at this moment that she admitted to herself that she "would murder to drink, kill to quiet the panic, put a knife to the throat of anyone who kept me from it, and thrust." It was not until much later, after her 14 days of detox (the average time is three days), that her doctor told her that when she first came in he thought she had two weeks to live.

Fishing was the one constant in Lorian's life that helped her survive a painful and difficult childhood. It allowed her to feel connected to something and gave her a sense of purpose and an excuse to get out of her house.

Lorian's father, Ernest Hemingway's biological son, left Lorian's mother when she was six. Lorian was then raised by her mother and an incredibly abusive stepfather. She watched horrific scenes of physical abuse, all thewhiledreaming of an idealized biological father, whom she later found to be a troubled man who had fits of depression that caused him to lock himself in his room for weeks. Befriended by a woman known as Catfish, Lorian learned the art of catfishing and a modified fly-casting technique long before she knew anything of her grandfather's passion for the sport. Later, her great-uncle Les (Ernest's brother), his daughter Hilary, and Dr. Howard Engle became her closest kin, taking her fishing from the Florida Keys to Bimini. Lorian chronicles this group's travels to some of the world's prime spots with such luminaries as Jimmy Albright, who had accompanied Hemingway, Zane Gray, Ted Williams, and Joe Brooks.

Yet these special moments on the water were not enough to pull her out of her chronic alcoholism. Lorian does not shy away from revealing her darkest days in Walk on Water, nor does she deny the difficulties of learning to live without the substance that had become an integral part of her life. Yet with the love and support of her daughter, Lorian Hemingway has adjusted to life and fishing without booze and says, "I was lucky, and in these new bright, hard-as-diamond days I feel sometimes, almost giddily, as if I had walked away from murder."

Kirkus Reviews
In this raw, to-hell-and-back memoir the enormously talented granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway describes, among other things, how she has fished some of the watersþKey West, the Big Two-Hearted Riverþher grandfather loved, and battled the same self-destructive alcoholism that haunted him. Hemingway's often hard life formed the framework for her first novel, Walking Into the River (1992). Like the protagonist in that tale, she had a drunken, dissolute mother and an abusive stepfather, a man she despised. Aunt Freda, the family member she is closest to, once even took a shot at him. Hemingway describes herself as a "dark child," one adults regarded "as they would a rabid Chihuahua." She had a penchant for eating anything from night crawlers to river mud. Her parents divorced when she was six. A rebellious teenager, she ran away and secretly contacted her father, Gregory. Ernest Hemingway's youngest son suffered severe depression and, as she discovered, "liked to dress in women's clothes." By early adulthood, Hemingway had done jail time, been "raped and dumped in a backwoods in Georgia," spent time in drug rehab, sold drugs, stolen cars, and ridden "with baby-eating bikers." She married and had a child in the 1970s, but drinkingþand her obsession with fishingþwould continue to plague her. Deep-sea fishing became a passion, and in 1980 she founded a tournament in Key West. A "bombastic, conscience-free, ego-driven alcoholic," she would fish the Big Two-Hearted River on assignment for a magazine but, as often happened, her drinking nearly ruined the trip. A feisty, dying Aunt Freda offered her a freezerful of home-grown, medicinal marijuana, not to smoke but to sellso that she could pay for treatment for her alcoholism. Hemingway's brief but harrowing description of her stay in a detoxification center in January 1988 and her joy at "being free" of the addiction climaxes this frank, powerful memoir.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Harvest Book Series
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt

From catfishing as a young girl in the lazy, red clay waters of the South to battling marlin in the Caribbean, Lorian Hemingway has had a passion for fishing all her life. It was a passion that would sustain her even as the burden of a broken family and her own alcoholism threatened to consume her. Walk on Water is her poignant and powerful memoir about loss, recovery, coping with the family you are born into, and making a family of your own. But above all it is an homage to fishing — its ability to bind people, to challenge, and ultimately, to heal.

"People pair up to fish as they do in life...they keep fishing together because no one else quite comprehends the degree of their obsession," Hemingway writes, and from the beginning, her memories of fishing are inextricably linked with the relationships that have shaped her life. There is Catfish, a woman she idolized as a child, who gave her early insights on fishing ("You wants fish too bad. They knows it."); Hemingway's estranged father, with whom she tries to connect during a Herningwayesque marlin hunt in the Caribbean; her big-hearted great-uncle Les, with whom she goes barracuda fishing off Bimini in a pirated sailboat, himself tragically haunted by the family legacy; and her larger-than-life aunt Freda, who once saved her from a deadly water snake with a bow and arrow.

But in the colorful cast of characters there is none more appealing than Hemingway herself — gifted with a dry wit, a keen eye for life's absurdities, and a fierce resilience that comes from being a survivor. She writes passionately about herself and her effort to come to terms with her family legacy, especiallywith regard to fishing — whether it's a harrowing encounter in the dark with a hammerhead shark, an inauspicious TV debut on a fly-fishing show, or the quiet pleasures of fishing with her daughter.

By turns moving, raw, wry, and hilarious, Walk on Water is a stirring memoir by a woman who, like her quarry, is full of fight and life.

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