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Hemingway's Demons

Curtis DeBerg’s 2024 Wrestling With Demons: In Search of the Real Ernest Hemingway, is appropriately titled. Beset by physical injuries, depression, heavy drinking, war memories, and a non-stop wanderlust for women not currently in his orbit, Hemingway’s largesse in booze, wives, travel, and his obsession with guns does not mitigate his life’s burdens. Like his father before him, Hemingway was tortured by an overbearing mother he grew to loathe for the rest of his life. DeBerg writes, “she was a bitch of mother; Edward was a coward of a father.” Edward Hemingway shot himself to escape the wrath of his wife, an action foreshadowing his son’s suicide years later.

The construct of the book is odd, even choppy. It is a hodge-podge mosaic explaining Hemingway’s war injuries and obsession with military uniforms and ribbons, his faults, his fantasies, his failures. The author retraces the famous author’s ceaseless wanderings to Havana, Paris, Spain, and his Oak Park, Illinois birthplace. Like his hero Hemingway, author DeBerg is a survivor of plane crashes, incurring painful injuries that linger for a lifetime. Hemingway’s life is encapsulated by the author as follows: “Hemingway went through four wives, alienated his three sons, and betrayed more friends than you can count on two hands…He was self-absorbed and narcissistic. He told great yarns in the bars of Paris, Pamplona, and Havana. If the lies were more colorful and entertaining than the truth, well that was okay. That’s the livelihood of a fiction writer.”

With author and admirer Deberg painstakingly charting his four wives’ physical appearances, educational backgrounds, sexual predilections, and the ranking system Hemingway used to assess each of their strengths and weaknesses, the reader reluctantly receives a complete smorgasbord of the character and habits of one of the greatest American writers in the 20th century. It is often an ugly look. We are reminded that while DeBerg very much enjoys what he calls, “getting lost in the word painting that typifies Hemingway’s craft,” it ended badly for the author of Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises. Following the example of his father Edward, Ernest Hemingway died by his own hand, his demons having the final say on his life. And his death.  

Rod Haynes


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