‘Far into the night they worked, the boys vying with the girls in their search for knowledge, this urge for the learning of things that was sweeping America.’ ~ THE TORRENTS OF SPRING
I don’t usually elaborate on quotes from books — I just share them online, letting them do all the talking — but this time I will make an exception.
First I would like to draw attention to the musicality of the prose. I’m not referring to its graceful poetry, the way in which grand and timeless themes are accessed through simple, immediate words. For all its beauty, there’s more to the excerpt than that; a flowing cadence, a calibrated score. Its prose is underscored by a pitch and rhyme so subtle, yet skilled, so unconsciously appealing, it leaves a nimble mark on the reader, one which he or she may not notice at first.
Simply consider the sound and rhyme, the progression from girls to search, and from there on to knowledge, which moves on to a softer urge, then back to the r and n in learn, all of which creates a journey through language as rhythm, all within a couple of lines, crafting a poem so graceful and elegant, so resonant, most of us embrace it without registering it.
Secondly, this book was met with extensive criticism, mainly because it targeted the literary world, satirizing the works of certain writers and their schools of thought, their belief systems, their life choices, everything they stood for — a practise that was, and still is, a big no-no in the literary world. How dare Hemingway take a swipe at the craft, the industry, the precious art, his fellow authors, the editors, the publishers, how dare he? Bar Fitzgerald, who deemed The Torrents Of Spring a masterpiece — partly because he belonged to the mindset exalted, not criticized, and partly because he was right — readers and critics alike had something cocky to say about it, even when praising it, which was seldom enough.
For example, this New York Times review. It’s smart, caustic, ambiguous and so, so very full of itself . . .
. . . much like Hemingway’s work, some might retort, and thus, guilty of the very approach it criticizes.
To be fair, the New York Times review is not without merit. A fair jab, indeed, I might add, but let me offer a more constructive point of view, a review that brings out TTOS‘s natural attributes. Believe it or not, this book has them. All it takes to find them is taking everything with a pinch of salt, reading this book as one would watch Pulp Fiction, or any Tarantino movie. There’s that kind of quality to it, in a 20’s kind of way, an early precursor to spliced and absurd storytelling that needn’t be taken seriously — it doesn’t expect to be taken seriously — and whose ham-fistedness is a force of subtlety. An acquired taste, perhaps, and hard to connect with if you’re not in the mood, but, then again, this is a precursor, an irreverent farce written back in the 20’s, a vent for an author who wanted out of his contract with his publisher so urgently, he wrote it in ten days, giving it the kind of zaniness that would cause his publisher to terminate his contract.
All in all, TTOS is a punchy highball that lowballed the crap out of the literary scene, paving the way for one of the most influential authors of the modern era.
I read in one sitting on a summer night in London, a city that tends to be cloudy and rainy and glum even in July, but it wasn’t such a night. It was warm and cheerful, the skies clear and crisp, beaming silver with moonlight, and I was sitting at home, having a bottle of IPA, expecting to get drawn into that trademark ‘athletic’ prose that sprints down the road only to veer off onto a side road and go places you don’t expect, sometimes to your delight, other times to your ultimate frustration, which Hemingway does naturally — I have a conflicted relationship with his writing, though it always ends on a plus note, even when the hero gets punished, Hemingway pulls it off masterfully, hence why I keep going back — and I’m expecting that kind of story, unsure of whether I should start the book in the first place, but, lo and behold, it’s a different trip altogether. Not a trip as much as a stray but alluring reverie. Not as well-crafted or potent as any of Hemingway’s later stuff, but still, breezy, cheeky, flowing, and enjoyable in a Chinook kind of way.
Out on the carless London streets the revellers of the night cheered and sang songs as they emerged from the pub down the corner. Their drunken voices seeped in through the open window. I had a sip of ice-cold IPA, reading about Scripps and Yogi and their nonsense life in middle America, smiling and nodding.
Watch this space for Part Two