When I am on the road, I like to stick to short stories. I can read one in a couple of hours or less, and if I am driving I can usually find ones in audio form to listen do while I am behind the wheel. And I can torture my passengers with some light reading (listening?) during the trip. With what looks looks like a busy summer of traveling ahead (I am headed back out to my father’s this weekend; who knows where I might be next weekend), I have decided to compile a list of summer-friendly short stories.
The first story on my list is one I have read before, but often find myself returning to: “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” The story keeps me turning pages as I follow Macomber, his wife Margaret, and their guide Wilson through the wilds of Africa. It is a delicious power play between characters that leaves you asking yourself who really won in the end. I came across this story after reading A Farewell to Arms, and it restored my faith in Hemingway, Literature, and life in general. (I have almost lost friends over the fact that I can’t stand that book.) I don’t know if it was "Macomber"'s third-person narrative or the dynamic relationships between the characters, but the feel of this story was so different from what I had previously read, I could barely believe it was from the same author.
“Francis Macomber was very tall, very well built if you did not mind that length of bone, dark, his hair cropped like an oarsman, rather thin-lipped, and was considered handsome. He was dressed in the same sort of safari clothes that Wilson wore except that his were new, he was thirty-five years old, kept himself very fit, was good at court games, had a number of big-game fishing records, and had just shown himself, very publicly, to be a coward.”
After I read this paragraph, which is about a page into the story, I was hooked. I was getting some good description there, and then Hemingway adds: oh yeah, he’s a coward too, just wanted to throw that in as an afterthought. Hemingway keeps this trend of effortlessly throwing in twists throughout the story, and he does it so subtly that I notice something new every time I read it. It is this more than anything that keeps me coming back. “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” can be found in The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories, pretty much any other Hemingway collection, or online here.