Saturday, May 31, 2014

"The Mark of Zorro" by Johnston McCulley

I've been a Zorro fan for most of my life.  At a rummage sale when I was probably 8 or 9, I found an old picture book based on the Disney TV show, Zorro (1957-61).  I was already a lover of all things Old West by that age, and the dashing Zorro reminded me a lot of the Lone Ranger, one of my earliest heroes.  I read that already-well-loved book over and over, taping it back together whenever it fell apart a little more.  Later, I got to see some episodes of that show, plus the 1940 Tyrone Power movie, The Mark of Zorro.  I loved the show the most, as Guy Williams suited my adolescent self, with his bright smile and sly quips.  There was a Zorro TV show in the '90s that I liked too, though I only caught a handful of eps because my family didn't have cable.  And, of course, in 1998, Antonio Banderas donned The Mask of Zorro, and I love that movie version very, very much.  I also quite like Isabelle Allende's book.

So it's odd, since I've loved Zorro stories for almost 20 years, that I'd never read the original story until now.  And I'm regretting that, in a way, because I could have been enjoying this book for all these years!  It's such a zesty, fun-loving sort of story, exactly what would have pleased me in my teens.  Oh well, at least I've read it now!

And I've not only read it, I've listened to a breathtaking audio version too.  I actually listened to this a few months ago (my everlasting thanks to Deb Koren for telling me of its existence!), and then discovered when I started reading the book that, duh, this is what the audio series was based on!  Which means that I got to read this whole book with Val Kilmer's voice in my head, which... wow.  Talk about swoon-inducing!  In fact, I almost recommend the audio over the original book, based solely on the magnificence of Val Kilmer's vocal performance.

Okay, but anyway, the book we know now as The Mark of Zorro was originally a serial in a pulp magazine almost a hundred years ago, in 1919.  It was called The Curse of Capistrano, and the story caught the eye of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., who changed the title to The Mark of Zorro when he made it into a movie.  The movie was such a smash that the whole serial was released as a book under his title instead of the original.  McCulley went on to write a bunch more books about Zorro, which is kind of surprising since at the end of the original, Zorro reveals his secret identity and declares he's going to get married and settle down, basically.  But whatever, sequels of swashbucklers are a good thing and I won't quibble.

I'd put a spoiler warning here, but surely you already know who Zorro's alter-ego is, right?  If not, skip this paragraph.  Anyway, as I read this, I wondered over and over how it would have worked for people reading it the first time who did NOT know that Diego Vega was also Zorro.  It was published in five installments, so there were probably about eight chapters per installment -- did readers realize that the reason Diego got so much page-time was that he was the hero?  Or were they like, "Dude, shut up about this annoying mush-brain and get back to the good stuff already!"

Okay, so the basic story is this:  back in the early days of California, when the Spanish dons held all the power and the mission priests held all the morality (remember, this is totally fictional), the pueblo of Los Angeles has a bunch of corrupt officials who beat the peasants and mistreat the natives and persecute their enemies and generally behave like Prince John and Sir Guy of Gisborne and the Sheriff of Nottingham in your typical Robin Hood stories.  (It so happens that I'm also a major fan of Robin Hood.)  This guy in a black mask and cape, deadly with a sword, starts showing up and punishing evildoers.  He calls himself Zorro, which is the Spanish word for 'fox.'  Lovers of justice applaud him, lovers of easy money do not.

Also, there's this guy named Diego Vega, a young man who makes Sir Percy Blakeney from The Scarlet Pimpernel (a probable inspiration for this story) look like a manly man.  He wants to read poetry, he wants to sit in the sunshine and dream, he's fatigued by everything, distressed and annoyed by everything -- and fabulously wealthy.  He asks Senorita Lolita Pulido to marry him, whines and fusses when she resents not being courted, and generally is the laughingstock of the pueblo.  And, weirdly enough, I actually started to think that his idea of not going through the process of courting, singing outside the senorita's window, not making of a fool of himself -- I thought that sounded rather sensible.  I think I would have accepted him.

Unless, like Lolita Pulido, I also had the dashing Zorro making virulent protestations of love every time I turned around.  

Anyway, this would never win any prizes for a beautiful writing style, but it's a cracking good story, full of adventure and intrigue, danger and romance.  I won't be waiting long before I read it again.

Particularly Good Bits:

"I am the friend of the oppressed, senor, and I have come to punish you" (p. 15).

Don Carlos had proved himself to be a courageous man in his youth, and now he was a wise man also, and hence he knew better than to participate in an argument between women (p. 37).

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for violence and a man menacing a woman.

This is my 8th book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Challenge, and my 9th for the Classics Club.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

LOTR Read-Along: The Last Debate (ROTK Ch. 9)

I'm always amused by Legolas and Gimli's exchange at the beginning of this chapter.  Gimli says, "When Aragorn comes into his own," and Legolas replies with "If Aragorn comes into his own" (p. 854, emphasis added).  It's like a little extra insight into their characters, Gimli confident and charging ahead, Legolas more cautious.

There's a theme in this later section of the trilogy of, to put it Hamletishly, being hoisted with one's own petard.  It comes up most pointedly now, when Aragorn refers to the Army of the Dead felling so many Mordor troops.  He says, "[w]ith its own weapons was it worsted!" (p. 858).  I don't have anything particularly to add to that, just thought I'd mention it.  Sauron's own weapons get used against him several times, don't they?  Most obviously, the ring, of course.

Favorite Lines:

"Pale swords were drawn; but I know not whether their blades would still bite, for the Dead needed no longer any weapon but fear" (p. 858).

"Follow what may, great deeds are not lessened in worth" (p. 859).

"We come now to the very brink, where hope and despair are akin.  To waver is to fall" (p. 862).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Gandalf returns to a theme he stated way back in chapter two of The Fellowship of the Ring, and which Galadriel reiterated:  "Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till.  What weather they shall have is not ours to rule" (p. 861).  Why do you think Tolkien emphasizes this repeatedly?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

LOTR Read-Along: The Houses of Healing (ROTK Ch. 8)

This is my favorite chapter in The Return of the King.  It vies for my favorite in the whole trilogy.  I love it so much, I usually read it twice before I move on to the rest of the book!  Completely wonderful.

It starts out with Pippin and Merry reunited at last, which brings me great joy.  Then Gandalf comes to find Merry and takes him up to the Houses of Healing himself.  Love it!  I get so happy when mighty and important people trouble themselves about seemingly small and insignificant people.  One of my favorite themes.

Random aside:  I also love that Aragorn and Eomer and Imrahil are riding around together and keep having little discussions with each other.  Makes me smile.

But anyway, as soon as Ioreth shows up, I start to chuckle.  She talks and talks and talks and talks, and Aragorn and Gandalf both get rather sarcastic with her because they need her to just get to the point already, and I find it hilarious.  That whole section is littered with me underlining things and writing "hee" or making smiley faces in the margins.  Aragorn tells her to "run as quick as your tongue," and Gandalf threatens that "Shadowfax shall show her the meaning of haste" (p. 846).  And yet, they're not exactly being mean -- they're truly in a big hurry to save Faramir, Eowyn, and Merry.

And then the herb-master arrives, and more Hamlette chuckles ensue.  He's even worse!  He repeats this whole poem about athelas and the black breath and the king and doesn't get it at all, when it's all so perfectly obvious, man!  He even says, "It is but a doggrel, I fear, garbled in the memory of old wives" (p. 847), which hearkens back to when we were in Lothlorien and Celeborn told Boromir that "oft it may chance that old wives keep in memory word of things that once were needful for the wise to know" (p. 365).  Listen to those old women, even if they prattle on!  They know more than you think they do.

And in the midst of this sarcasmfest, Faramir awakes and is so completely wonderful, isn't he?  He says, "who would lie idle when the king has returned?" (p. 848).  Can we just hug him already?  

But hug quickly, because up next is such an amazing passage, where Aragorn and Eomer discuss Eowyn.  Aragorn describes her with some of the most perfect imagery, comparing her to a lily made of steel by the elves, or else frozen by sorrow.  And Eomer tries really hard not to accuse Aragorn of breaking her heart, which shows some impressive diplomacy on his part.  Then Gandalf steps in to explain that Eowyn, "born in the body of a maid, had a spirit and courage at least the match of yours" (p. 848), which Eomer seems to have been oblivious to all this time.  Eomer, dear, I do love you a lot, but... you can be such a guy sometimes.  

But then Aragorn gets even more wonderful when he agrees with Eomer and says, "Few other griefs amid the ill chances of this world have more bitterness and shame for a man's heart than to behold the love of a lady so fair and brave that cannot be returned" (p. 849).  I'm in raptures!  I could write a whole book based on that line alone!  And then he goes on to explain to Eomer that she loves him more than Aragorn because "in me she loves only a shadow and a thought" (p. 849).  Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

So then we get to Merry, and I love this chapter even more yet.  Because he wakes up, asks for food like a good Hobbit, and then asks if Strider happens to know what became of his pack during the battle because he'd like to smoke his pipe.  And my absolute favorite passage is here -- it has a huge smiley face, 3 hearts, and the words "hee hee!" written by it:
"Master Meriadoc," said Aragorn, "if you think that I have passed through the mountains and the realm of Gondor with fire and sword to bring herbs to a careless soldier who throws away his gear, you are mistaken.  If your pack has not been found, then you must send for the herb-master of this House.  And he will tell you that he did not know that the herb you desire had any virtues, but that it is called westmansweed by the vulgar, and galenas by the noble, and other names in other tongues more learned, and after adding a few half-forgotten rhymes that he does not understand, he will regretfully inform you that there is none in the House, and he will leave you to reflect on the history of tongues" (p. 851).
Oh my goodness, is that delicious or what?  If Aragorn was like this through the whole book, he would be my favorite character, hands down.  (But don't worry, Boromir, he's not, so I still love you the mostest.)

Favorite Lines:

The light of the torches shimmered in his white hair like sun in the spray of a fountain (p. 843).

"One thing also is short, time for speech" (p. 845).

Then taking two leaves, he laid them on his hands and breathed on them, and then he crushed them, and straightway a living freshness filled the room, as if the air itself awoke and tingled, sparkling with joy (p. 847).

"May the Shire live for ever unwithered!" (p. 852).

"It is best to love first what you are fitted to love" (p. 852).

Possible Discussion Questions:

When Aragorn declares he won't openly enter Minas Tirith yet (because they don't know Denethor is finally dead and good riddance), Aragorn furls his banner, and then he takes off the Star of the Northern Kingdom and gives it to Elrohir and Elladan.  Why?  Is that to signify he's not declaring his kingship over Minas Tirith yet?  Why does he give it to them?

Also, I'm confused about Numenor and Elves and stuff again.  How can that be, when I've read this five times before?  Sigh.  Anyway, when Aragorn sets about healing people, he says, "Would that Elrond were here, for he is the eldest of all our race, and has the greater power" (p. 845).  By "our race" he means the Dunedain, is that right?  Or Numenorians?  What's the difference?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Regarding a Read-Along of "The Old Man and the Sea"

I've decided to do it!  Enough people have expressed interest in doing a read-along of Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea with me that I'm going to host it.  We'll kick things off on July 21, which is Hemingway's birthday.  And by which time, I do hope I'll be done with the Lord of the Rings read-along :-)  

I'm not sure yet exactly how I'll do this particular read-along, as it's really just one long short story, with no chapter breaks or even section breaks.  Maybe a post for plot, another for characterization, another for imagery, another for style?  One huge post about ALL of it?  I don't know!  Going to be an adventure.  If you have any suggestions, shout 'em out!

In the meantime, if you're interested in participating, or just want to add a nice picture to your blog, please consider adding one of these to your sidebar with a link back to this post:





Thanks!  I'll probably see if I can get this listed at The Classics Club too.

Monday, May 19, 2014

LOTR Read-Along: The Pyre of Denethor (ROTK Ch. 7)

This is such a creepy and horrible chapter.  I have a great fear of dying in a fire, so yeah... ugh.  Not pleased at all by Denethor here.  That whole image of him lying down in the middle of the fire, and the fact that anyone who ever looked at the palantir after that would see "only two aged hands withering in flame" (p. 836) -- that is one of the creepiest images I've ever encountered.  Blech.

A big theme here all of a sudden is how The Enemy is working even in the midst of The Good Guys.  Beregond has to slay a doorkeeper to keep Denethor and his guards from killing Faramir, Denethor has gone mad because of what Sauron has shown him in the palantir, etc.  It reminds me of how we are never safe from our spiritual enemy -- Satan will enter our very minds and hearts and deceive us with lies and half truths.  He'll get us to disagree with other believers in an effort to turn people away from faith... talk about creepy!

But at least the chapter ends fairly well.  Faramir doesn't get burned up after all!  Whew.

Favorite Lines:

So Pippin poured out his tale, reaching up and touching Gandalf's knee with trembling hands (p. 832).

Then Gandalf revealed the strength that lay hid in him, even as the light of his power was hidden under his grey mantle (p. 834).

"To me it would not seem that a Steward who faithfully surrenders his charge is diminished in love or in honour," said Gandalf (p. 836).

Possible Discussion Question:

Denethor accuses Gandalf of wanting to rule Gondor, "to stand behind every throne, north, south, or west" (p. 835).  What does this tell us about Denethor himself?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

"Sixteen Brides" by Stephanie Grace Whitson

Add this book to my list of favorites!  I loved, loved, loved it!  I can't wait to get my own copy.

At first I was a little daunted, because Whitson kept switching points of view between different characters, and I thought that if I had to try to keep sixteen women straight, I was sunk.  Fortunately, she really only focuses on six.  She also writes some sections from the POV of other characters, but I'll get to that.

So what happens is this: in post-Civil War St. Louis, sixteen women join something called the Ladies Emigration Society.  They're promised that if they go out to Nebraska, they can get their own homesteads for free -- as unmarried women, they are the heads of their own households and eligible just like any man would be.  Of course, they'll also have to "prove up" on their homesteads by working the land and living on it for five years.  Most of the women are widows, and one has a son.

What these women don't know is that the man who runs the Ladies Emigration Society has promised men back in Nebraska that he's bringing out a trainload of eligible women who want to get married.  When the women get to Nebraska and find this out, eight of them decide finding a new husband sounds like a fine idea.  Eight of them do not.  And six of those dissenters band together to claim four adjoining homesteads.

What happens next is the sort of story I could read over and over.  And, when I get my own copy of this, I'll do just that.  They build a sod house, they start raising crops, and the story is chock full of details of their day-to-day lives.  I absolutely love a story about people figuring out how to live in a new environment and not only survive but thrive.  That's why the first season of Lost will always be my favorite.  It's why I read Laura Ingalls Wilder's books over and over as a child.  That sort of thing fascinates me.

It so happens that several of those six women also find themselves attracted to men in their vicinity, and some of them do get engaged by the end.  There's a good bit of romance here, and it's also exactly the kind I like.  Not too gooshy, not the main plot of the story.  These relationships feel realistic and interesting, not convenient or unbelievable.  Part of that is because the characters are, for the most part, very well-rounded, with flaws and foibles, strengths and weaknesses.  I want to be friends with all of them.

If I belonged to a book club, I would insist we read this.

Particularly Good Bits:

No rule had been made that a gentleman wouldn't break for a determined southern belle (p. 33).


Was this how it worked?  A man carried the burden of grief, and for a while it obscured everything else around him, until slowly, the burden started to shrink until it could fit inside his heart instead of blocking out everything else in the world.  And finally, it folded in on itself.  And while it still remained a part of you, and you knew it always would, it made room in your heart for hope (p. 235).

If This Was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for violence including an attempted rape that is non-graphic but does use that word.

This is my sixth book read and reviewed for the I Love Library Books challenge.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

LOTR Read-Along: The Battle of Pelennor Fields (ROTK Ch. 6)

The battle!  Lots of battle!  And Eowyn being "faithful beyond fear" (p. 822).  She kills the fell beast, she smites the Black Captain -- three cheers for Eowyn!  In the movies, it's kind of implied that the only reason she can take the Ringwraith down is because she's a woman.  But she obviously has serious sword skills, if she can slice off the fell beast's head with one blow.  "A swift stroke she dealt, skilled and deadly" (p. 823).  It may be that her gender somehow thwarted the Nazgul's enchantment or whatever, since he said "No living man may hinder me" (p. 823), but her own skill played an equally important part, I'd say.

And three cheers for Merry too!  Once "the slow-kindled courage of his race awoke" (p. 823), he jumps right into a fearsome fray and attacks a Ringwraith!  Way to go, Merry!

Here's the word "fey" again.  It says that "a fey mood" takes Eomer when he sees his sister's body on the field of battle.  Tolkien describes it thus:  "then his face went deathly white, and a cold fury rose in him, so that all speech failed him for a while" (p. 826).  So once again, "fey" seems to me to mean otherworldly and wild.  In fact, yeah, "wild" might be the best way to describe what I always thought "fey" meant.  Not crazy, but not in control of yourself either, exactly.

And now let's give three cheers for Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth!  He's the one that figures out Eowyn's not dead.  Good job, Prince Imrahil the fair!

Favorite Lines:

But the white fury of the Northman burned the hotter, and more skilled was their knighthood with long spears and bitter (p. 821).

"A grim morn, and a glad day, and a golden sunset!" (p. 824).

"A great rain came out of the Sea, and it seemed that all things wept for Theoden and Eowyn, quenching the fires in the City with grey tears (p. 827).

"...and the mirth of the Rohirrim was a torrent of laughter and a flashing of swords..." (p. 829).

Possible Discussion Questions:

When Eowyn kills the Black Rider, it says that "a cry went up into the shuddering air, and faded to a shrill wailing, passing with the wind, a voice bodiless and thin that died, and was swallowed up, and was never heard again in that age of this world" (p. 824, emphasis added).  Does that mean it was heard again in another, later age of this world?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

LOTR Read-Along: The Ride of the Rohirrim (ROTK Ch. 5)

I'm very fond of Ghan-buri-Ghan and his Wild Men.  They're kind of like the Ents -- something rather unique to Tolkien that I've never really run into in other legends and mythologies.  Which, granted, I haven't read nearly enough of for even my own liking, but whatever.  They're kind of the like earth personified, the same way the Ents are trees personified, and I dig them a lot.

And yeah, this is one of those thrilling chapters where I just cheer and cheer, and clap my hands and bounce up and down as the Rohirrim go charging into battle.  And they sing!  "And then all the host of Rohan burst into song, and they sang as they slew, for the joy of battle was on them, and the sound of their singing that was fair and terrible came even to the City" (p. 820).  Such a cool image, these singing warriors slaying orcs with joy.  Oh, I love those Rohirrim so much!

Favorite Lines:

"Need brooks no delay, yet late is better than never," said Eomer (p. 817).

"Forth now, and fear no darkness!" (p. 818).

Possible Discussion Questions:

"There seemed to be some understanding between Dernhelm and Elfhelm, the Marshal who commanded the eored in which they were riding" (p. 812).  So Elfhelm presumably knows that Dernhelm is actually Eowyn, and he's cool with that?  And he and the others in that eored know that Merry wasn't supposed to come along, but they turn a blind eye to his presence.  Do they all also know Dernhelm is actually Eowyn?  Just how good or bad is her disguise, anyway?  I mean, Merry doesn't recognize her, but he's only met her a couple of times.  Seems like this Elfhelm guy plays kinda fast and loose with obeying the king's orders about stuff, doesn't it?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

"Homicide Trinity" by Rex Stout

I love Nero Wolfe mysteries.  They're never too sinister, too serious, too worrisome.  Neither are they light, fluffy, or predictable.  They make me happy, with Archie Goodwin's snappy patter and wry commentary, Wolfe's reluctant genius, and all those yummy dishes Fritz Brenner concocts.  I've noticed that whenever I finish a deep, serious book, I reach for a Nero Wolfe mystery to cleanse my literary palate.  In fact, that might be the best way I could describe them:  they're like sherbet.  Crisp, tangy, and delicious.

There are a lot of novel-length Nero Wolfe mysteries, and there are also a lot of collections of three shorter mysteries.  This is one of the latter.  The three stories are each about 60 pages, and each are delightful in their own way.

In "Eeny Meeny Murder Mo," Wolfe and Archie investigate the death of a woman who was strangled with Wolfe's necktie.  In his office.

In "Death of a Demon," a woman brings her husband's revolver to Wolfe for safekeeping because she's tempted to kill her husband with it.  Guess who ends up dead from a bullet of that gun's caliber?

In "Counterfeit for Murder," a quirky, determined woman named Hattie Annis hires Wolfe to make the NYPD eat dirt.  And solve a murder that involves a counterfeit ring.

The last story is easily my favorite in this collection, and Hattie Annis is possibly my favorite client of theirs ever.  I spent much of the story debating whether I'd rather have her played by Agnes Moorehead or Thelma Ritter, and decided in favor of Thelma Ritter because she's less bitter and more spunky.

All in all, a fine trio of murder mysteries, and it successfully washed Hemingway out of my head so I could move on to other books and not keep thinking, "This is nice, but it's not Hemingway."

Particularly Good Bits:

"The subconscious is not a grave; it's a cistern" (p. 66, "Death of a Demon").


A corner of his mouth twitched.  "That's why I put up with you; you could have answered with fifty words and you did it with one" (p. 76, "Death of a Demon").

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for occasional, mild bad language, discussions of violent deaths, and the suspicion a dead woman had been sexually assaulted.

This is my seventh book read and reviewed for the Mount TBR Challenge.

Monday, May 5, 2014

LOTR Read-Along: The Siege of Gondor (ROTK Ch. 4)

Sigh.  Nearly a week has gone by since my last chapter post.  I blame the recurring strep throat around here and the lovely weekend weather that had me out of doors for two days straight, playing in dirt and planting things.  I actually finished the chapter back on Thursday, but just haven't had time to post about it.  Sigh.

Anyway, isn't Denethor hideous?  That description of him at the beginning of this chapter is so perfect and awful:  "an old patient spider" (p. 788).  Blech.  It's amazing Boromir and Faramir turned out so well, with a creep like that for a dad.  Probably he neglected them a lot when they were kids.  Lucky them.

Should I quick mention how sweet it is that Pippin remembers liking Boromir "from the first, admiring the great man's lordly but kindly manner" (p. 792)?  Yes, it seems I should.  It's the fondest, nicest thing anyone says about Boromir, I think.

Gandalf continues to make me smile at odd moments.  When he's explaining things to Pippin again, for instance, and says, "But what?... Only one but will I allow tonight" (p. 796).  I need to remember that line and use it with my kids.

Plus, Gandalf gets one of the most chilling lines in the book.  He calls the Lord of the Nazgul "a spear of terror in the hand of Sauron" (p. 800).  Ooooh.  Isn't that brilliant?  Makes my hair stand on end even now as I flip through the chapter.

I'd forgotten that the outside of Minas Tirith was "like to the Tower of Orthanc, hard and dark and smooth" (p. 804).  Doggoned movies get into my head and replace the book descriptions sometimes.

Oh yes!  The word 'fey' crops up again.  This time it's describing Denethor.  Pippin tells Beregond that Denethor "is fey and dangerous" (p. 809), and that's more of the usage I'm used to -- doesn't it seem like Pippin is saying he's unbalanced?  Not functioning in the realm of reality anymore?

And is there any chapter in any book that ends so magnificently?  With Gandalf squaring off with the Lord of the Nazgul, telling him in effect that he Shall.  Not.  Pass.  The Black Rider laughs, Gandalf stands firm, and then... oh my goodness, I'm choking up as I re-read it.  I had tears rolling down my face when I read this ending last week, chills racing up and down me.  "Horns, horns, horns.  In dark Mindolluin's sides they dimly echoed.  Great horns of the North wildly blowing.  Rohan had come at last" (p. 811).  That's it, I am tearing in again.

Favorite Lines:

"Stir not the bitterness in the cup that I mixed for myself," said Denethor (p. 795).

"Comfort me not with wizards!" said Denethor (p. 805).

Possible Discussion Questions:

Gandalf describes Aragorn a "able to take his own counsel" (p. 797).  Hasn't Denethor been taking his own counsel?  What's the difference between the two?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

"The Sun Also Rises" by Ernest Hemingway

If I needed to sum up this story and these characters in one word, it would be 'desire.'  If I were permitted two words, I would add 'disappointment.'

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  I meant to say first that this is the first Hemingway novel I ever read.  I'd read a short story or two in high school, and during my freshman year at college, my friends and I watched City of Angels (1998) a lot.  Hemingway's memoir A Moveable Feast figures prominently in the movie, and I decided to read it once school was done.  But when I got home that summer, I discovered my library didn't have it.  They did have this, and the quote from Ecclesiastes inside intrigued me, so I checked it out.  I can still remember that copy, old and rebound in that funny, rough hardcover stuff libraries used to use.  Bright orange.  I felt so intellectual, reading Ernest Hemingway at nineteen.  Reading and enjoying him.

I didn't quite get everything that was going on, that first time through.  Or rather, I didn't quite get that the protagonist, Jake Barnes, had been emasculated by a war wound.  I knew he'd been wounded, I knew he was angry and disappointed about things, but Hemingway implies everything about the wound, in his inimitable way, and I didn't figure it out.  Not that it mattered, because I was perpetually drunk on his prose.  Hemingway was unlike any writer I'd encountered up to that point -- strong, evasive, beautiful, ugly, and with such a feeling of truth running under everything.

Okay, back to 'desire' and 'disappointment.'  From here on, there are spoilers. 

As I said, Jake Barnes was wounded in WWI in such a way that he's no longer able to have sex.  He's a foreign correspondent for some American newspaper, living in Paris in the expatriate community.  And he's in love with Lady Brett Ashley, a divorcee with a fondness for alcohol and sex.  She's almost in love with him too, but because he can't fulfill her desires, she knows she'd never truly be happy with him.  So she is engaged to a guy named Mike, but goes off on a trip with another guy named Cohn, and then dumps him, and later takes up with a bullfighter and has a fling with him instead.  And Jake tries not to be miserable during all that.

Like I said, it's all about desires and disappointment.  Jake and Brett desire each other, but can't do anything about it.  Mike and Cohn and the bullfighter desire Brett, but are all disappointed when she leaves them for someone else.  Brett desires them too, but they all disappoint her one way or another.  In the end, no one really gets what they want.  Jake at least seems to understand that what he wishes could have been between him and Brett might not have been as wonderful as they can always imagine it would have been.

And if that sounds sordid and depressing, you're not wrong.  Or right.  It's not completely sordid in that Hemingway never actually uses the word 'sex' or describes anything of that nature, other than that sometimes characters kiss each other.  Everything else is implied -- even the characters talk around it.  And it's not completely depressing because by the end, I feel like Jake at least has come to accept what can and can't be and can move forward with his life a bit.

My one quibble with Hemingway's writing is that he often does these long conversations with not enough dialog tags, so I have to go back and reread parts to figure out who's saying what.  But I've become resigned to that issue, as his writing delights me otherwise.  

Particularly Good Bits:

"I can't stand it to think my life is going so fast and I'm not really living it" (p. 18).

"You can't get away from yourself by moving from one place to another" (p. 19).

It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing (p. 42).

He was the archivist, and all the archives of the town were in his office.  That has nothing to do with the story (p. 102).

"Good.  Coffee is good for you.  It's the caffeine in it.  Caffeine, we are here" (p. 120).

The things that happened could only have happened during a fiesta.  Everything became quite unreal finally and it seemed as though nothing could have any consequences.  It seemed out of place to think of consequences during the fiesta (p. 158).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for language, alcohol use, oblique references to sex, and violence.

EDIT:  I forgot to mention there are some racist comments made about Jews, and the "n" word gets used in a matter-of-fact way, not as a slur.  Remember, this was written almost 90 years ago, when things were a lot different.

This is my eighth book read and reviewed for the Classics Club, and my fifth for the I Love Library Books challenge.