Strange Type

Nicholas Delbanco 

The writer Malcolm Lowry—most celebrated for his novel, Under the Volcano—wrote poetry also for much of his life. His characteristic 
obsessions (with fire, firewater, water, woe) inhabit the poems as well as the prose. At times his verses read like sketches for scenes in the 
novel, often verbatim, a way of trying out a phrase and deciding which genre works best. The lyric impulse, the formal rhetoric and 
pleasure in word-play: all these are vintage Lowry and survive the shift to rhyme. Here is the final entry in his small Selected Poems: “Strange 

         I wrote: in the dark cavern of our birth. 
         The printer had it tavern, which seems better: 
         But herein lies the subject of our mirth, 
         Since on the next page death appears as dearth. 
         So it may be that God’s word was distraction, 
         Which to our strange type appears destruction, 
         Which is bitter. 

For years I thought of this poem as quaint, a function of the printer’s devil and antiquated technology: some thick-fingered 
transposition of letters while the type was being set. But as anyone who reads contemporary books or newspapers can attest the “typo” is 
scarcely a thing of the past; error attends our new technologies as often as those of the past. As Chair of the Hopwood Awards Committee 
at the University of Michigan, I’ve just proofread a volume—the fifth in a series—of lectures on “The Writing Life.” Each April a 
prominent author delivers a speech to an audience of students, many of whom have been selected as recipients of a Hopwood Award; this 
“Advice to the Young Writer” is thereafter published in the Michigan Quarterly Review. That magazine is meticulous and the lectures appear 
letter-perfect, having been proofread repeatedly; once a sufficient number of such talks have been given and printed, I collect them and call it a book. The task of editing these pages should therefore be a simple one: gather the offprints together, scan them, and, hey presto, a 
volume appears. . . . 

Except it’s not so simple and the scanning’s inexact. There’s an electronic imp at work with as much inventiveness as Lowry’s comic 
printer—who substituted “tavern” for cavern, “dearth” for death. In the page-proofs I’ve just been correcting, for example, Robert Hass 
speaks of “The Creek Tragedies” and Roger Rosenblatt of that contemporary American classic, “The Class Menagerie.” “Cod” is routinely invoked as our nation’s deity, and one lecture was delivered by the poet Louise Cluck. This is, as it were, an unhappy or unglücklich 
transposition of Glück, but the errata are not limited to a simple substitution of the letter C for G. DOS Passos looks like a tip of the 
typographer’s cap to Microsoft, and there’s the poet Alien Ginsberg—who might perhaps have welcomed his new name. One writer was “bounded from town to town,” and there are whole lines revised at seeming-random: the machine has a will of its own. 

I don’t mean to complain Luddite-like about the failure of technology or to propose a return to the hand-set or handwritten page. But 
the proofreader’s problem does give me my topic—the distinction, as it were, between what we imagine and what we produce, the 
distance between reach and grasp. This may be—consider James Joyce—a function of the eye not ear; as our sight dims and focus grows 
fuzzy we tend to respond more to sound. The letters themselves will blur, blend. That proud Shakespearean boast, “So long as men can 
breathe and eyes can see/so long lives this, and this gives life to thee,” carries with it a hint of its own countervailing assertion: men breathe 
and see but briefly, after all. One could almost read the vaunt as a form of carpe diem, for beauty too must end. A writer cannot by 
definition predict what will outlast the act of writing or how and what it signifies in time to come; that which we envision and that which 
we  accomplish lie antipodes apart. 

The preceding sentence or this very one with which I now discuss it might prove resonant to others; more probably it won’t. Yet its 
author cannot be the best judge or witness; the effect we have on readers is for readers to decide. From “distraction” to “destruction” is but a vocalic shift, and what a writer means or moans is hard to wean from mien. Atrocious as might seem this series of puns, it’s Lowry-like 
and characteristic: or, as he put it in a letter to a friend, the sort of cartoonish Too-loose Lowry-trek that marked his rambling progress 
through the world of words. 

Too, he appeared to understand how his “volcano” would erupt. After years of poverty and failure he earned great praise for his great 
book and, in “After Publication of Under the Volcano” wrote “Success is like some horrible disaster/Worse than your house burning. . . .” 
Much of what ensued were “the sounds of ruination,” and when he choked to death in drunken sleep in a cottage in Sussex in 1957, the 
coroner’s verdict was “Death by Misadventure.” One more phrase from his Selected Poems and I’ll let Malcolm Lowry rest in peace: “When the doomed are most eloquent in their sinking/It seems that then we are least strong to save. . . .” 

WHEN I READ the announcement of Hemingway’s death I was eighteen years old and alone for the first time in Paris. It was the 
start of July. The writer had died of a gunshot wound in Ketchum, Idaho, and The International Herald Tribune reported the story 
circumspectly: we did not know the details yet, knew only the result. Our most important author, our laureate, our lion—in 1961 his reputation had not dimmed and the praise was universal and the work revered. 

Like many others of my generation—young men particularly—I thought “Papa” was the father of us all. His early stories and novels, his 
definition of style as “grace under pressure,” his notion that a man of words could also be a man of action—all these were true and fine. 
Nick Adams, Frederick Henry, Robert Jordan—not to mention Lady Brett and the beautiful Catherine Barkley—set imagination’s 
standard: this is the way you must hunt, drink, and court, this is the way to behave. Since I hoped to be a writer, they also looked like 
signposts: this is the pathway and this is the gate, this the spoor to track. Later I would follow a host of other authorial leads—Lowry’s 
prominent among them—but Hemingway began it; he was the heavyweight hero, he had caught the biggest fish and married the most 
wives and been the writing champ. 

We knew what he looked like in photographs and sounded like in interviews; we knew his personal history (the love of boxing and 
bullfights, the various war-wounds and airplane crashes) and that he sharpened pencils absent-mindedly at the writing desk and, because of a bad back, worked standing up. When you lie for a living long and well enough, the line of demarcation between fact and fancy gets crossed. 
He became his own invention in the news and on the page. I never did meet him, of course, but knew his nicknames—“Ernie,” “Tatie,” 
“Hem”—and familiar to the point of intimacy was his obsession with death. 

So it seemed merely proper, in the city of The Sun Also Rises, to drink to the author’s memory. “Let’s have some irony and pity here,” 
I told myself. “Let’s get tight.” I had been staying in a cheap hotel on the Rue des Écoles, not far from those Left Bank cafés he celebrated: 
Le Select, the Café Flor, the Dôme. I drank a coup of vin ordinaire, drank two. Then out again along the Boulevard Raspail and into the 
Luxembourg Gardens where I was, it turned out, not alone. Young men were mourning their lost leader and bending elbows everywhere 
and donning sunglasses tragically, saying “Yes, isn’t it pretty to think so” to anyone who listened at the several bars. As though running the 
bulls at Pamplona, we weaved back down the Boulevard St. Germain to the ancient church he’d written of and sat in its cool shade. 

What surprises me in this old anecdote is how it did feel personal: his death was public property, and it could be shared. The pen may 
not be mightier than, but does survive, the sword. Soon enough there would come post mortems, both of artist and career. We would 
learn the wound was self-inflicted, learn of his inability to write after electro-shock treatment and his paranoia and haunted final years. 

And so the tune would change. As had been the case for Lowry, Papa Hem’s trajectory was downwards; he drank too much and wrote 
bad books he seemed unable to distinguish from his brilliant best. What once had seemed heroic came to look like pomp and bluster; what 
had been an example to imitate now became one to avoid. The macho posturing or, as Max Eastman put it, the cult of “false literary hair 
on the chest” looked more and more like “Bull in the Afternoon.” Hemingway had peaked too early; he had lost his influence as well as 
mind and nerve. He had been important once, had flourished and faded and was an object lesson in failure, not success. . . . 

TRUTH RESIDES BETWEEN. Much has been written, much made of the famous author’s famous style. That stripped and 
luminescent thing, that eighth of an iceberg and “built-in-shockproof shit detector”—the plainspeak and colloquial diction so artfully 
wrought and architected did more to change the look and sound of American prose than any other author’s “in our time.” (His phrase too. 
. . . ) And I’ve only this to add to that discussion. 

Were a computer to dissect the patterns and the rhythm of Hemingway’s language, it would, I’d guess, fail to distinguish between the early work and late—rather the way that spellcheck can’t distinguish between two proper English spellings, “there” and “their,” “weight” and “wait.” Whatever failed him in the end was not the style itself. 

For once he’d established his manner of expression, it more or less held fast. The Anglo-Saxon verbal pool in which he principally 
fished, the preponderance of monosyllabic if not four-letter words, the transliterated foreign speech and carefully buttressed abstractions, the 
spaced repetitions and lack of ascription in dialogue, the fondness for the present participle and paratactic use of the conjunction—all these 
hold as true in his last pages as they had done for his first. Some writers alter their style over time; think of Rainer Maria Rilke, for 
example, or William Butler Yeats. Or the early Henry James growing ever more grandiloquent and orotund, enlarging as his waistline did 
to the plump and jam-packed late. . . . 

But others, once they forge a mode of discourse, hone and refine and retain it, and this is certainly the case with Hemingway—no 
author I can think of was more constant, consistent in usage, less subject to change over time. Which is one of the reasons why he’s so simple to parody and why, in his worst work, he seems a shambling and parodic caricature of himself. So what we’re really discussing is subject, 
not style; this is the true distinction here, the matter of the manner—what the French call fond, not forme. It’s the difference, if you will, between the cri du coeur of Roland’s horn and the empty honking of a boy who cries wolf, wolf. . . . 

All this proves devastatingly applicable to his final maunderings, the “novel”—we must put that word in quotes—True at First Light. 
The most recent (and, we are promised, the last) of his posthumously available books, it undermines the very structure it had been supposed 
to shore up. I mean by this the structure of the writer’s published achievement, that imposing edifice which began with Three Stories and 
10 Poems. By now Hemingway has managed to produce nearly as much postmortem as during his productive career: A Moveable Feast, 
Selected Letters, Islands in the Stream, The Garden of Eden, and True at First Light—several thousand pages of prose have made their printed 
debut since 1961. And if you add, as his publishers do, the collections and selections—“That Dangerous Spring, That Dangerous Summer, 
That Dangerous Fall, That Dangerous Winter”—the list of Hemingway’s titles at present available includes more that appeared after death than those he himself saw in print. 

Of these books, only the nearly completed first can lay proper claim to attention. Whatever its true genesis—of which more later—A 
Moveable Feast is full of splendid language and vivid scenes and scenery, old Hem at the top of his once youthful form. Both forward-facing and elegiac, “the Paris stuff”—as Hemingway called it—adds to the bitter best we have of him and rounds the portrait out. But of the others, of those hundreds and hundreds of pages accreted since 1961, there’s scant good news to report. Joan Didion, in a New Yorker article titled “Last Words,” makes a convincing case that these novels are not actual Hemingway but rather objects of commerce, leading inexorably to such things as the “Ernest Hemingway Collection” in furniture. Such commodification of an author’s language has more to 
do with revenue than art; it’s clear as clear can be that he wanted no part of this sort of publication and did try to cover his tracks. To have 
the last word is one of the dreams of a life committed to letters, and to have others decide how your finished text should read is a writer’s 
nightmare brought to book. 

This is a complicated issue, however, and best judged case by case. Those who read Franz Kafka must be grateful that Max Brod, his 
executor, disregarded his instruction that the work be burned. Virgil’s Aeneid would have been unavailable, but so would a gaggle of 
second-rate efforts, the halt and unfinished and lame. Malcolm Lowry’s fine collection of short fiction, Hear Us O Lord from Heaven Thy 
Dwelling Place was published posthumously, as were those Selected Poems with which this essay begins. But the spate of subsequent books 
(October Ferry to Gabriola, Dark as the Grave Wherein My Friend is Laid, etc.) have done little to advance his reputation’s cause. I myself, as John Gardner’s literary executor, supervised the publication of two texts he left behind: one novel, Stillness, he chose not to publish but 
which his heirs approved of and one, Shadows, on which he was working at the time of his motorcycle accident. So I’m more than 
glancingly familiar with the difficulties of such an enterprise: discretion seems the better part of valor, and one must navigate the minefields 
of early and discarded drafts with care. 

Yet Hemingway did write Charles Scribner, in 1951, that certain parts of a long four-part novel could be published intact after death. 
In the ensuing decade he neither enjoined publication nor destroyed these manuscripts; he could have burned them, surely; he could have 
left explicit instructions that the vault stay sealed. The Old Man and the Sea, indeed, is a self-contained part of that imagined whole; his 
readership is grateful it exists. And he himself oversaw the production of Across the River and Into the Trees, as bad a book as any that have 
seen print since his death. 

In 1929 Hemingway wrote, “There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had 
dignity.” This passage from A Farewell to Arms poses the problem vividly: which words retain their dignity and which are better left 
unwritten or at least unread? 

IT SOMETIMES SEEMS as though he and F. Scott Fitzgerald invented the very idea of author as public figure and grist to the 
media-mill. (They didn’t, of course; Ralph Waldo Emerson made his living on the circuit, and Mark Twain and Charles Dickens were 
modern celebrities equally: half-artist, half-entertainer to those who came to hear them in the lecture halls. Walt Whitman, Vachel Lindsay, 
Carl Sandburg, Oscar Wilde—the list extends, expands. But the divide between life and letters, between the performer and the thing 
performed, appears in almost every other case more clear. Fitzgerald at career’s end worked in near-anonymity and with great integrity; not 
so the man who’d mocked him as “poor Scott.”) Dickens or Twain may have drawn on personal history for the characters of David 
Copperfield or Tom Sawyer, but no one who thronged to listen thought of their fictions as fact. That distinction has been—in no small 
part because of Hemingway—erased. When he writes about his hero’s war-service or guerillas in the Spanish hills or hunting German 
submarines, we tend to take the imagined tale—no matter how bloated and self-serving—for the enacted deed. 

This no doubt fuels the pointless argument that True at First Light has engendered: the question of whether or not he took an African 
bride. The protagonist of that novel-in-progress is offered a willing maiden or two, and it titillates imagination to think its author was too. 
Hemingway claimed to have slept with Mata Hari—a chronological impossibility—and his rum-bred braggadocio as to Dietrich, Garbo and 
the rest seems interestingly at odds with his characters’ earned reticence; if he’s correct in his assertion that you lose it if you talk about it, then he lost in actuality what on the page he gained. (A Pyrrhic victory, of course, since a truism of writing is that an encounter is only as true as it reads. “But this actually happened,” the novice asserts, of a scene that fails to persuade. . . .) 

It’s one paradox of our age of publicity that authors such as J.D. Salinger or Cormac McCarthy or Thomas Pynchon can increase their 
public’s expectation by the very refusal to appear on talk-shows or in Dewar’s Ads; were they to show up at fashion shoots we’d be less 
likely to look for the texts. It’s a ploy of publicity agents now to keep their client under wraps and a book’s contents sealed. But this of 
course requires that someone notices your absence from the limelight; most of us don’t need to be protected from the paparazzi’s flash. For 
me to refuse Oprah Winfrey’s invitation to appear on her television program is somewhat less heroic than it would be if she asked. In this 
sense the “author-tour” becomes its own contradiction; to write your name in lights or at the bookstore table is not to be at home alone 
engendering the work. What we lose in the process is that most cherished aspect of the writer’s life, that sine qua non of productiveness: 
untrammeled time to work. And Hemingway did understand this; he was, it would seem, a binge-writer—alternating periods of privacy 
with those of the fiesta (which is, as it happens, the German title of that book of his which in England alludes to the fact of recurrence and 
the vanity of worldly hope: the sun also ariseth until, one day, it sets.) His biographers’ accounting of the bleak final years attests to the 
writer’s conviction that the act of creation mattered, mattered greatly, and he killed himself at least in part when he feared he could no 
longer write. 

Here it’s useful to remember how many of his heroes are cognate-figures for the artist: from Jake Barnes the journalist to Thomas 
Hudson the painter, men of sensibility take stage center in the tales. The great white hunter Robert Wilson, in “The Short Happy Life of 
Francis Macomber,” recites Shakespeare on the subjects of bravery and growth. Even the least literate of Hemingway’s protagonists, the 
Cuban fisherman Santiago, responds to the water and sunset as though he were composing the scene: conscious sensibility is a common 
denominator throughout. This holds true for the corrida and trout stream as well as safari. His men may be silent and stiff-upper-lipped, but 
the dying Harry of “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” provides the template here: writing what he cannot write in a kind of soundless cadenza 
and, in the shape of the hyena, hallucinating death. 

Too, it’s startling to remember how young our author was when first famous; most of his time was lived in the limelight, and even the 
retreats—Key West, the African rambles—were open to photographers. This writer’s life was relentlessly public, one that he lived from “first light.” Fitzgerald wrote the editor Maxwell Perkins in 1924: “This is to tell you about a young man named Ernest Hemingway, who lives in Paris (an American), writes for the transatlantic review and has a brilliant future. I’d look him up right away. He’s the real thing.” 
At this point, let’s remember, “Hem” wasn’t twenty-five, so the apprenticeship was at best brief. Now we’d announce “the arrival of a 
major new talent” and talk of movie sales and TV interviews and blockbusting tours. But Hemingway was ballyhooed at least as early on as, say, Bret Easton Ellis or Jay McInerney or Tama Janowitz. 

To name this more or less contemporary trio is to recognize how rapidly today fame fleets. Well, not precisely fame as a function of 
name recognition but as a result of earned artistic laurels; there will be a hundred now who know that these people are writers for anyone 
who plans to read their books. Unmediated judgment attaches largely to an anonymous manuscript; from then on out it’s a matter of 
gossip-columns and sales. I mean by this that the first reader of the first submission must trust to his or her own educated guess as to a 
manuscript’s worth. Thereafter other issues factor in. The commercial stakes have been raised; the tolerance for failure or a break-even 
book decreases, it would seem, each season. So the decision as to whether to publish the new Ellis, McInerney or Janowitz, whether to 
review or read, has more to do with previous sales records than the intrinsic value of the text at hand. And I pick these three at 
near-random; for a whole raft of reasons it’s hard to extend a career. “Young writers if they are to mature” as Cyril Connolly averred, 
“require a period of between three and seven years in which to live down their promise.” 

And that is my true topic here: how to live up to one’s promise or, per contra, live it down. The phrase comes from a work I love: 
Enemies of Promise by Cyril Connolly. It was given to me by a bloody-minded uncle forty years ago, when I first dreamed of writing, and it’s a sustained analysis of the pitfalls that await young authors and the pratfalls they’re likely to take. How does one navigate the shoals between departure and arrival; how stick at the last to one’s last? Let me quote at greater length from Enemies of Promise: 

 . . . In authors who have dried up, who have put their hobby before their vocation, who now are doing well in the
city or who collect first editions or old dust-wrappers, who run chicken-farms or set and solve Greek cross-word puzzles,
who write detective stories or who have transferred their sensibility to cheese and old claret, there is one fact in common.
They have all been promising.
Promise! Fatal word, half-bribe and half-threat, round whose exact meaning centered many tearful childhood
interviews. “But you promised you wouldn’t,” “but that wasn’t a promise,” till the meaning expands and the burden of
the oath under which we grew up becomes the burden of expectation which we can never fulfill. “Blossom and blossom
and promise of blossom, but never a fruit”—the cry first heard in the nursery is taken up by the schoolmaster, the friendly
aunt, the doting grandmother, the inverted bachelor uncle. Dons with long reproachful faces will utter it and the friends
of dons; the shapes and simulacrums which our parents have taken, the father-substitutes and mother-types which we have
projected will accuse us and all await our ritual suicide. Whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising.

Of all the second acts in American literary life, there’s none more sad than Hemingway’s, and it helps to be reminded of his brilliantly 
accomplished first. When Fitzgerald called himself “an indifferent caretaker . . . of talent,” Hemingway was savage, saying of The Crack-Up that it was dirty laundry and should not be washed in public. But True at First Light paints a far grimmer picture—grim because involuntary as well as self-deluded—of an author gone bankrupt or at least into receivership. Even Ralph Ellison—whose posthumous publication was the other major event and major disappointment of this last publishing season—kept his decline to himself; when Ellison appeared in public it was with unmatched dignity. None of the attitudinizing bluster or, as Connolly describes it, “sensibility to cheese and old claret” the falling-off in Hemingway’s case makes “glist’ring Phaeton’s” seem positively leisurely, a measured collapse and banked fall. 

These are issues of what I’m tempted to call “career management” and a spur to speculation on that problematic thing, lastingness. The 
ancients imagined Proteus as a shape-shifter, an old man of the sea who had to be grappled with firmly while he assumed the forms of 
water, fire, air. Caught, he would prophesy. But consider our author’s old man of the sea—now an animated feature, by the way, at your 
better local cinemax—and you’ll see the way a shape can shift, the Protean use in our present age to which such talent is put. For even in 
his wildest dreams the boy in Oak Park at the turn of the century could not have predicted that, by the millennium, there would be 
furniture marketed in his name and in four individually tailored themes: Ketchum, Key West, Havana and Kenya. There are Hemingway 
look-alike contests, Hemingway write-alike contests, the bearded face licensed to T-shirts and soon enough, no doubt, to gin. What does all 
this have to do with writing, one may ask? 

There’s a celebrated anecdote about the early work and how it came to be lost. Though penniless and at penury’s edge, Hemingway 
and his first wife Hadley always seemed somehow to fetch up on the Riviera or in Spain, and during one such winter—1922—he went 
ahead to Austria. Hadley joined him there. He had asked her, it would seem, to bring along his work-in-progress from the flat in Paris, and 
she packed it dutifully, taking all the drafts and carbons in a separate valise. Carlos Baker, in his Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story, reports on 
this succinctly: 

      He had been urging Hadley to fly down whenever she felt “travelly.” The prospect of dodging among the snowy 
mountains was not very tempting and she took the train instead. But the journey was made under conditions so harrowing for her and so horrible for Ernest that neither of them was ever able to forget it . . . During the very brief time when the bags were out of her sight, the valise with the manuscripts was stolen. . . . 

Hadley was inconsolable; he too. Some work was salvaged because elsewhere; the short story “Up in Michigan,” for instance, had been 
offered on submission, and there were scattered drafts of “Fathers and Sons.” Soon enough he would produce that groundbreaking series of 
dispatches, In Our Time, and we cannot know for certain how much he did retain, how much of the lost suitcase found its way into those 
tales. His memory would have been accurate, his hand still steady and eye clear; he could have reconstructed what was worth the saving and 
scrapped what were anyhow scraps. 

Nor can we know, almost by definition, if these were apprentice pages or the precocious master craftsman’s—if, in truth, imperishable 
language was on that occasion lost. Or if, as he later wrote of a passage in A Farewell to Arms, “it sounds very much like the sort of thing one 
tries to remove in going over the manuscript.” But in any case the loss became an emblem for what proved irretrievable: his hopeful youth, 
his marriage, his sense of possibility, his early close wrangling with words. Years and decades later he “could not bear to speak of it,” as 
though Eden were ransacked that day and he himself expelled. 

Some of the great short story, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” is powered by a similar regret and self-negating strategy. 

      You could dictate that, but you could not dictate the Place Contrescarpe where the flower sellers dyed their flowers in the street and the dye ran over the paving where the autobus started and the old men and the women, always drunk on wine and bad marc; and the children with their noses running in the cold; the smell of dirty sweat and poverty and drunkenness at the Café des Amateurs and the  whores at the Bal Musette they lived above.

Yet that’s a way of eating cake and having it, of saying what cannot be said and in the very act of description describing silence also; 
guess what, dear reader, you’ve just read about the Place Contrescarpe although it can’t be written; we say it can’t be done then do it nevertheless. 

So I have my suspicions. Perhaps he found the pages later and knew that they weren’t any good. There’s a story, probably apocryphal, 
that an obliging bartender kept a briefcase at the hotel bar and said to Papa later: Hey, Hem, isn’t this yours? If history can be revised, and 
if it belongs to the victors, why could he not revise the suitcase-stories and call them a memoir? In this scenario some passages would have 
been remembered and thereafter recycled; it’s possible—even, to my mind, likely—that A Moveable Feast, with its romantic evocation of 
first love in Paris, derived from those early sketches; we tend to repeat our good lines. There’s a noticeable divide in that final book 
between the sun-shot and nostalgia-splashed description of the early career and its bitter aftertaste. Those who helped him—Gertrude Stein, 
Ford Madox Ford, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the rest—are dismissed with retrospective savagery; it’s as though the fierce old man rewrote the charming boy. Or, in a kind of time-lapse photography, as though the one face had been superimposed on the other. 

For an author who proved unable, when asked, to compose a single line for John F. Kennedy’s inaugural to have produced so many 
such marvelous pages as those of A Moveable Feast beggars credulity; it must have been previous prose. Each fond dream of redemption ends 
with “What was lost is found.” No doubt the suitcase did disappear but the container yielded up the thing contained. There were old 
notebooks, perhaps, discarded drafts, the “Paris stuff” stuffed into mattresses or returned as a bundle of letters or extracted from a cardboard box left mouldering under the eaves. . . . 

WHAT COMPELS ME, as should by now be evident, is this image of an elder author confronting the work of his youth. Let’s assume 
for a moment that Hemingway’s own first effort was, in effect, a found object as well as a lost suitcase. In Robert Frost’s phrase, “the gift 
outright,” we find a mortgage nonetheless entailed; what happens when we squander such a gift or prove indifferent caretakers of talent or 
simply run out of steam? For an entertainer or athlete this prospect arrives quite early on; a creative artist can pretend that maturity provides wisdom, efficiency replaces energy, and so on. Yet the examples of great achievement in old age are few and far between—far fewer, I would venture, than of greatly ambitious first. 

For there does come a point, of course, when one knows the best work is over and a bill if not a final reckoning comes due. We may 
be lucky enough to acknowledge this and withdraw from the arena and thereby avoid embarrassment or, worse, public compassion, 
condescension; we may, if we are fortunate, retain—even gain—perspective and refuse a supernumerary curtain call. I don’t mean that the singer or the violinist should cease their private music or writers must fall on their pens. To the degree that this essay is personal, 
confessional, the hope is self-reflexive: may I recognize, in years to come, what’s worth the preserving, what not. 

Ernest Hemingway, it seems to me, saved less of himself than do most other authors, living—as he once put it—“with a quicker ratio 
to the passage of time” than do most of us at the millennium, in spite of palm pilots and supersonic planes. He was “half in love with easeful 
death”; he held nearly nothing back. So there’s a bitter irony in the industry of exhumation, these slim graveyard pickings and very brittle 
old bones. Because whether he used or abused it, whether he squandered or worked to conserve it, that talent of his was a bright shining light, and when it went out it went out. 

There’s a novella at my most recent book’s center—a novella not coincidentally titled The Lost Suitcase—which is a kind of 
premonitory variation on our theme. I mean by this that I tried to imagine alternate Hemingways, alternate ways of responding to change: 
scenes in which his wife jettisons the manuscripts in anger, for example, or scenes in which it doesn’t matter that she misplaced his early 
work or they decide to save it against a future rainy day and together concoct the story of theft in the Gare de Lyon. . . . 

My fiction goes on for a hundred pages and nearly that many scenarios; I’ll conclude here with the last. Our Hemingway-figure is called 
Edward, Hadley’s AnnaLise, and by this time he’s ill and ancient and abandoned by his Muse. Here’s what I made of our “strange type” and 
my own version of endurance: one final Old Man of the Sea:

For what is a suitcase, what sort of gift? What has she left him with, leaving him that? The memory, perhaps, of what he once produced; the receptacle of all his early effusiveness—the proof in dog-eared black and white that once he was a young man and an enthusiastic and energetic beginner poised above his work-desk, rapt. Who had believed the suitcase stolen, the language in it long since lost, but he has always been a lucky man and she a large part of his luck. Imagine for a moment, reader, that you too are young again, the world before you like a path of gold, the first kiss or million dollars or the perfect game awaiting your first toss towards home plate. Imagine that it’s Eden still, this overgrown garden we have decided not to prune or weed or hoe. With wandering footsteps and slow. Or that the night is sleepless since you do not choose to sleep and that you could at will and readily drift off. What was possible remains a plausibility and what was lost is found. Imagine that your AnnaLise returns in all her original beauty, her unblemished innocence, and that age has neither withered nor custom staled her infinite consistency, that she is the dream you first dreamed. These paragraphs are yours, were mine;
they have been waiting in this suitcase for longer than we care to count, and now have been by your conceiving—great word of art and life—restored.
I picture it this way.
She gets off the train.
AnnaLise gets off the train.
One final time our girl gazes about and construes her own shadow and stares down the length of the snow-sprinkled platform. At mountains, a porter,
conductor, a dog.
She represents, of course, the Muse; in whatever way such visitations happen and for whatever reason (his quick grin, his insouciance, his nine inch cock?) she finds herself compelled by Edward. She has watched him for some time, watched over him for years. Perhaps already in his crib, perhaps in grade
school or junior high or during the period of his apprenticeship to the school yearbook and the newspaper, more probably one morning in the bathtub at the age of six when he found himself, with no discernible prompting, able to remember whatever he had heard that day or read the night before and able to
rhyme and recite it—when he woke, I say, to the glad awareness of language this repeated glad awareness in and of itself appeared involuntary and not in the strict sense rational, as though he were a tuning fork and some composer struck a note, as though he were the subject of this sentence and not object or as though the two were—awful word—conflated or—slightly less awful—linked. 
But whatever the reason, having elected him as vessel, AnnaLise has poured herself unstintingly within.
And although our hero is an egotist, he is neither wholly unaware of nor ungrateful for the honor. In the watches of the night or bent above his writing desk he does feel singled out. He thinks of writing as a trade, a craft, a discipline, and has apprenticed himself to it gladly; his pleasure in the work of words
is real. He suspects himself to be muse-blessed and understands that he is fortunate but perhaps not-quite deserving. From time to time when drinking gin or in the fleeting interval between night-wakefulness and sleep Edward hears, or tells himself he does, the beating of great feathered wings. 
Above, about him raised.
Upon the perfumed air.
For for all her corporeal splendor, what she is is his idea . . . 
And therefore bit by bit and almost imperceptibly over time our hero—once so severe, so constant of purpose and disciplined in habit—permits himself
to take her not so much for granted as for something of less value than had been the case to start with: a currency debased. Soon what has begun as attitude becomes a routine condescension, a familiarity that serves him as first-cousin to contempt. A diminution of his capacity for wonder, a sense there’s nothing
singular in being singled out like this and that she be but footnote to his text.
Till one fine morning he wakes up and, as always, stretches and as always shifts the pillow and thrusts back the blanket and gets out of bed, gingerly testing his right leg, his hip, the stiffness in his joints, the muscles of his back, his throat engorged, his mouth still tasting like the bottom of a birdcage, and
shuffles to the bathroom where he runs the tap and spits and rinses off his teeth, blinking, pissing, hawking phlegm, and turns on the overhead light and switches on his own electric kettle for the first cup of hot water with lemon, since he does not want to bother the night-nurse or, more precisely, to be bothered by her, cannot bear to share the fuss and ruckus of conversation at this hour but instead surveys the landscape (sea-grape, sea-fog, the rising sun and fading moon and could that be the Southern Cross?) and throws back the green wooden shutter and latches it, as always, to the black hook in the stuccoed wall and sits to his work-desk, as always, positioning the cane-backed chair, sharpening his pencils and smoothing out the foolscap and reading what he wrote before,
the verbiage accumulated yesterday and also the day before that, sucking maybe on a gumball, staring at the palm-tree and the cactus back beyond the pool, sitting poised as though expectant of, attendant on her visit, her seductive tactile presence on the naked yellow unlined sheet, for he has worked this way for months, for years, for decades, every morning in this fashion at this hour and no matter what has gone before, how hard the night or troubled the sleep, how many words he wasted on and with how many incidental players, undone, unstrung, half-comatose, so that it is merely accurate and neither boastful nor self-serving to report the yield was real, the harvest abundant, the language available to Edward—witness the books on the shelf, the placards
and awards on walls, the shelves in the library bulking—and so it takes him longer than it should have, possibly, to sense how something else obtains this day, some alien vacuity enters the room, or how the light comes slanting in without illumination.
The palm-trees do not frame his view, and what he has for company is absence and not presence.
Not Anna-Lise.
The habit broken, the pattern no longer ingrained.
The song he taught himself to hear is silence now, not with him now, not this fine morning at his desk and, although he does not wish to admit or
consciously consider this he knows it already, irrevocably, once gone it is gone and will not return to him ever, nor come to him again.
As once in May.