“Brett came up to the bar.
“’Hello, you chaps.’
‘Hello, Brett,’ I said. ‘Why aren’t you tight [drunk]?’
‘Never going to get tight any more. I say, give a chap a brandy and soda.’
She stood holding the glass and I saw Robert Cohn looking at her. He looked a great deal as his compatriot must have looked when he saw the promised land.”
The Sun Also Rises is my first Hemingway novel. I love the descriptions of fishing in the mountains of Spain. I have a lot to learn from his stylized dialogue. But the novel dragged for me. Hemingway’s heavy drinking expats take 100 pages to make it to Spain, where they drink some more – waiting for the bull fights to begin. (BTW – Check out agent Michael Stearns’ blog post about negative book reviews.)
What fascinated me most was Hemingway’s portrait of Brett, Lady Ashley.
When she enters the novel in the scene above, we’re not sure if we’re meeting a man or a woman. Referring to herself as a “chap,” Brett is saying, “I’m just one of the guys.” Except…
Except almost every man in their circle falls for her.
There must be an archetype for characters like Brett. Think of Phineas in A Separate Peace. Their combination of intelligence, wit and physical attractiveness is irresistible to the other characters. They are careless of other people. The results, as in Hemingway’s novel, are destructive.
When I was student teaching, one of my ninth graders died in a car accident. Her father spoke to me at the wake. “Jaclyn was the center of our family,” he said. “Her mood set the tone for all of us.” At 14, this girl was the Sun around which her parents and siblings revolved. I thought that was off. I didn’t have kids yet.
Now I jokingly call my 12-year-old, “Sonny Delight.” Since he was an infant, his ups and downs have set the tenor of our family life. As a child with sensory integration issues, he feels things intensely -- and we feel along with him. Some days, the Sun rises and sets with this kid.
I wonder how to provide balance for a child like him. I’m not finding the answer in literature. Hemingway’s Brett says, “I’m not going to be one of those bitches.” But she burns up nearly everyone around her, the way my son sometimes does on his bad days.
No answers here. Just hoping adolescence brings more good days than bad. Hemingway would say, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”