Book Review: The Heming Way

August 3, 2011

The Heming Way: How to Unleash the Booze-Inhaling, Animal-Slaughtering, War-Glorifying, Hairy-Chested, Retro-Sexual Legend Within… Just Like Papa!

By Marty Beckerman

Published May 27, 2011

Infected Press

90 pp.

ISBN 0-970-06294-X

Reviewed July 31, 2011

In my time as a book critic, I’ve heard a lot of arguments about the dominance of white male authors in the popular culture – and if you had to pick the male-est of those authors, it would without question be Ernest Hemingway. Famous in literary circles for his sparse prose, tragically flawed protagonists and views on the generations lost from the war, Hemingway is also an author repeatedly criticized as overly masculine, misogynistic and homophobic. Still others have accused the Hemingway image as being a construction entirely apart from the man himself, with F. Scott. Fitzgerald biographer Matthew J. Bruccoli declaring the man his own greatest fictional creation.

But is that really such a bad thing? Not according to Marty Beckerman, who leaps to Papa’s defense in his parody/self-help book “The Heming Way.” Compared to the way we live today in our world of wireless Internet connections and malt beverages, the attitudes of Hemingway – a man who drank eight different types of alcohol for breakfast, sought the great adrenaline rush of hunting both beasts and men, and was so proud of his way of life that he was the only one who could end it – seems a marvelous alternative. In mapping these extremes, Beckerman not only delivers a brief and hilarious biography of the author but artfully twists it into a critique on modern society.

Beckerman lays out the case for Hemingway as “a great writer, a great hunter, a great fisherman, a great womanizer, a great drunkard, and a great man – but mostly a great drunkard” by regaling the reader with tales of the author’s exploits. He tells you how to hunt like Hemingway (pick your guns well, cook what you kill, don’t bring women along), how to drink like Hemingway (on safari, in wartime, and with your hungover ten-year-old son) and how to pursue women like Hemingway (marry often, swapping out as their psycho levels rise and they lose their taste for your beard and vomiting friends).

The humor here comes from the extremity of viewpoints presented, as well as how over-the-top Beckerman gets in embracing those viewpoints. He presents Hemingway in his own words and then almost immediately illustrates the flaws in those words with even more quotes, but never dares to question them even as they grow absurd. Of course Hemingway’s drinking burdened him with massive health problems, but how else could he reach such heights as shooting himself in the legs during a fishing trip? And of course Papa’s “outward misogyny” was just an offshoot of the harsh realities of war, not repressed homosexuality! (So what if there are eight or ten quotes to the contrary, the man’s balls overwhelm those!)

It would be easy to dismiss the book as nothing but a list of Hemingway jibes, but Beckerman’s commitment to the format is impressive. Much as he did in the excellent 2008 political dissection “Dumbocracy,” Beckerman backs up his jokes with considerable research, regularly sourcing Hemingway’s own writing as well as a variety of biographies and scholarly studies. The format, reminiscent of a Cracked article, also earns its laughs by inserting some biting comments underneath Hemingway photos periodically inserted into the text. (Particular favorite: Hemingway’s quote “Love is just another dirty lie” followed immediately with his wedding photo and the tip “Do not include the previous quote in your vows.)

And even as parody, there’s a sense that it might be sitting on something deeper. that Particularly as the book heads toward the end, there’s an odd seriousness that emerges from the parody, almost a rant taking over as our modern sense of safety is compared to Hemingway’s style. In fact, in some passages, it almost seems like he’s seriously viewing that style as the lesser of two evils:

“And we’ve become rich in the currency of cowardice. We have so many things and so few experiences. We are desperate to live as long as possible, not as large as possible. We are so afraid to say goodbye to the world that we never say hello. We are numbed in our high-def, wi-fi cocoons, eager for materialistic possessions – the newest, fastest, shiniest gadgets – instead of a fitting end to a life well-lived. If Papa hadn’t killed himself out of despair in 1961, he would kill himself out of disgust today.”

It’s impossible to say what Papa would have thought of this book (though based on history, he’d likely knock the author on his back with one punch) but the end result would probably have involved a laugh and six shared drinks. Beckerman has kicked a breath of fresh air into the Hemingway mythos fifty years after Papa ended his life, and “The Heming Way” should appeal to fans of its source material and anyone looking for a good joke. It’s well-researched, incredibly funny, and just the impetus you’ve been looking for to bring Wild Turkey and six grenades on your next fishing trip.


Back Shelf Review: The Rum Diary

January 4, 2009

The Rum Diary: A Novel

rum-diarypbkBy Hunter S. Thompson

Published November 2, 1998

Simon and Schuster

224 pp.

ISBN 0-684-85647-6

Reviewed January 4, 2009

Originally reviewed at: Helium

Since acclaimed journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson committed suicide in 2005, there have been two schools of thought on his legacy. The most prevalent one is the “Uncle Duke” viewpoint of free-wheeling brilliant lunatic, dispensing acidic barbs while snorting cocaine and pausing occasionally to fire a shotgun into the darkness. This view is supported heavily by Thompson’s own “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and never-ending stories from his friends and editors, collected in the recent “Gonzo” book and documentary.

The other viewpoint, fiercely defended by his wife Anita in “The Gonzo Way,” is that Thompson was a writer in the purest sense of the word, a man who chose every word carefully and did so with the fervent belief that he could find truth and understanding in them. To find proof of this, one need look no further than “The Rum Diary,” the novel he began when he was 22 and which was finally published 40 years later. It’s an outlier from his journalistic body of work, which makes it all the more remarkable that it’s conceivably his best book after “Vegas.”

“The Rum Diary” tells the story of Paul Kemp, a journalist who heads to San Juan to take a job at the San Juan Daily News, a dying paper being put out by an eclectic group of drunkards and drifters. Kemp, who is coming to a realization of how long he’s been part of that group, finds himself pulled along in their binges and paycheck disputes, trying to find contentment and a sense of connection in a city that cannot figure out how to clean itself up.

Thompson’s early letters, reprinted in the fantastic collections “Fear and Loathing in America” and “The Proud Highway,” show that he approached this novel in much the same way most authors approach their first novels – their ticket to wealth and a place alongside literary icons. Emulation is clearly present here, with Kemp regularly engaging in introspections that match F. Scott Fitzgerald’s lyrically discursive characters. On the other side, several sentences clearly attempt Ernest Hemingway’s gift for grand meaning in a dozen words or less.

However, Fitzgerald would have never called a cocktail party “a dull sideshow full of quacks and clowns and philistines with gimp mentalities,” and Hemingway’s streamlined approach would founder in the decadent depravity of a St. Thomas carnival. “The Rum Diary” could never be called derivative, as Thompson’s voice – anarchic, observant and holding an angry sense of humor – is clear in every page. It’s almost purer in a way, free of the hallucinatory rambling that distinguishes his later work but still unafraid to call the swine by name.

Kemp’s reflections are helped along by the group of people he is surrounded with, who could be called eclectic if you wanted to be nice and degenerates if you wanted to be honest. Sanderson, a PR man whose constant wheeling and dealing hide a mask-like persona on par with Jay Gatsby; Sala, the staff photographer and Kemp’s drinking partner who sees himself at war with everyone else; and Yeamon, a prototype of “Vegas’s” Dr. Gonzo, ostensibly good-natured but with a mean spirit at the end of an evening. It’s an excellent cast of journalists, and Thompson fills them with that profession’s typical tension and drunkenness.

And like any good journalist, Thompson puts his thought to trying to understand them and their world. When not focusing on the excellent dialogue, the majority of “The Rum Diary” is given over to Fitzgerald-inspired musings on romance, living with “vagrant addresses” and just how long any one place’s peace can last. Even in the book’s weakest scenes, where Kemp is called to write articles promoting an upcoming resort, have odd and quiet thoughts on selling out.

It’s an elegiac tone in many respects, as Kemp – barely past 30 – looks back on his short life and marvels how quickly he became tired of it: “But it was pure masturbation, because down in my gut I wanted nothing more than a clean bed and a bright room and something solid to call my own at least until I got rid of it. There was an awful suspicion in my mind that I’d gone over the hump, and the worst thing about it was that I didn’t feel tragic at all, but only weary, and sort of comfortably detached.”

The final product is certainly not pure 1959 Thompson – years of letters speak of constant revision, and William McKeen’s “Outlaw Journalist” reports he stole the manuscript from his publisher for a final edit – but the fact that a young writer conceived of such a book and turned it into what it is speaks worlds of his talent. Anyone who reads this book for gonzo will not find that (at least to Thompson’s typical extremes), but if they continue they will find “The Rum Diary” deserves to be called literature.