As retired English majors, Ms. C and I have nothing better to do than argue about icons of 20th century American literature. No, not King and Grisham. I'm talking Faulkner and Hemingway, southern shut-in gentleman versus crazed debaucher.
Liz: Okay, I'll get the ball rolling. Hemingway showed better than anyone that "less is more." His sentences run seven words, not seven pages, something a certain Oxford, Georgia resident, whose passion for clauses was matched only by his passion for obfuscation, could not always boast.
Ms. C: Hemingway was lazy. He relied on the reader to supply imagery and context. It's not a work of art to leave a canvas blank and ask the client to imagine his own masterpiece. Faulkner can be accused of being too wordy, certainly, though Melville takes the cake in that department. Faulkner, however, knew the value of immersing oneself in the narrative completely, no holds barred. Hemingway was too busy slinging back the absinthe and counting his cats' toes to appreciate real artistry.
Liz: If Faulkner ever immersed me in a narrative in which I actually wanted to be immersed, I would be impressed. Instead, in novel after novel, he drops me into the middle of crazy town without a map. I never know what the hell is going on in his books. All I know is that it usually involves mildly incestuous siblings and a resurrection. If I wanted that, I could watch the Olson twins go to Easter mass. With Hemingway, it's always a nice straight shot from A to B to C with a stop for boozing and womanizing on the way. And let's not even start on the polydactyl cats who are -- paws down -- the coolest author-bred cats in the world.
Ms. C: If you like your novels not to tax you overly, then by all means, pick up a Hemingway novel on your way to the beach. Feel free to use it as a coaster or a rudimentary clam digger. But you wouldn't do that with Faulkner, as you wouldn't do it with Shakespeare. Faulkner's stories can not easily be put aside, or understood, because, like a fine gourmet meal, they must be savored and EXPERIENCED.
And if we're going to talk animals, I'd match Faulkner's bear to Hemingway's pampered pusses any day!
Liz: Two things. First, Hemingway would shoot that bear, eat it with his bare hands, then wear its head for a hat. And second, he used to be able to make Fitzgerald cry. I think that counts for something, don't you?
Ms. C: Hemingway was so chronicly blitzed, he'd have shot his own foot off before he ever got near that bear, and everyone knows Fitzgerald was a namby pamby! He'd cry if you spilled his martini! Also, Faulkner was a Nobel Prize winner with sexy Southern charm.
Liz: Okay, this is the part my debate coach always hated: the part where I start to agree with the other side. While I still contend Hemingway influenced at least two generations of writers who have shaped American fiction and deserves his place as an American master, I'll admist he was kind of a tool bag and he hated women and Dorothy Parker never liked him, which makes him kind of a loser in my book.
Ms. C: I'm inclined to believe, from Hemingway's fiction, that he didn't know any more about women than Screech. Faulkner, though, there's a man who'll hold the door for you.
Liz: You have swayed me, Ms. C, you have swayed me -- this time!