Hemingway: The Final Years is the final installment in a multi-volume biography that has occupied Michael Reynolds for the last 20 years. This volume follows the writer's life from 1940 through 1961. It is a superb account of Hemingway's rise to literary stardom and public success contrasted against his private weaknesses and volatile relationships with women. This biography is such a well-crafted story that it seems more like a novel than nonfiction. Every chapter takes the reader deeper into the psyche of Ernest Hemingway, following his personal decline until his suicide in 1961 at the age of 62. Reynolds uncovers some of Hemingway's lesser known activities as a journalist who briefly joined the French Resistance in World War II, as a civilian patrolling the waters around Cuba scouting for Nazi submarines, and other political acts that were kept secret until years later. His love of danger and espionage are a foreshadowing of his obsession with death. Reynolds notes, Part of Hemingway wanted to be the warrior he imagined himself as a young boy part of him was half in love with an honorable death, not one that he sought, but one that found him. Yet another part of him simply no longer cared if he lived or died. A major focus of the book, however, is his intense emotional relationships with his third and fourth wives, Martha and Mary. Reynolds skillfully exposes the dichotomy in Hemingway's character, revealing how he could be a controlling bully and a vulnerable, insecure man at the same time. Hemingway was drawn to strong, career-minded women, yet he wanted them to submit themselves to him and leave their personal pursuits once they became involved with him. As soon as a passionate woman became his wife and mother to his children, he began to feel trapped; but should that woman leave him alone for longer than a week, he became morose, vulnerable, and began to speak of his own death. In his final years, as his depression worsened, Hemingway's reputation and accolades increased. He became, as the biographer states, a man pursued, a writer not able to outrun his demons. Complementary to Reynolds's biography of Hemingway, the writer and the man, is a smaller book focusing on the places he visited and made famous. In A Hemingway Odyssey: Special Places in His Life (Cumberland House, $12.95, 1581820240), H. Lea Lawrence creates a kind of travelogue, revisiting Hemingway's favorite fishing and hunting spots in Michigan, Idaho, and Wyoming, as well as other vacation areas and homesteads in Europe and the Caribbean. It's no surprise that the author has written articles for various fishing and wildlife magazines. His descriptions of Hemingway's old stomping grounds could make any reader want to take up fly fishing. Lawrence's biography is a unique approach to revealing how Hemingway's favorite places and interests shaped the man and his writing. You don't have to be an outdoorsman to appreciate this biography, but it may inspire you to become one.
Kim Spilker is a writer in Indianapolis, Indiana.