Didn’t take me long in my story series to get to Hemingway, did it? Well, I won’t pretend I’m surprised. I did post about him earlier this week as well, but in fact, I re-read “Up in Michigan” (1923) because I’d been discussing with the consumption partner the Michigan stories, which he likes best. I think they are very good.
“Up in Michigan” has one of my favorite short story qualities: it is ridiculously short. In the Finca Vigía edition of Hemingway’s complete stories (which, admittedly, has sort of small print) it is not even four pages long. I love this compacting, and it is perfect for Hemingway, who effortlessly draws an entire Michigan town in half a page and a young woman’s innocent infatuation in the next half. He can tell a whole lifestyle in a few sentences:
All the time now Liz was thinking about Jim Gilmore. He didn’t seem to notice her much. He talked about the shop to D.J. Smith and about the Republican Party and about James G. Blaine. In the evenings he read The Toledo Blade and the Grand Rapids paper by the lamp in the front room or went out spearing fish in the bay with a jacklight with D.J. Smith.
Getting away from this particular story a bit, I really like that not only does Hemingway already have his authorial voice at 24 but he also had the sort of quiet wholesomeness I always think of: reading the paper; spearing fish; deer hunting; woods and sand and a bay and a lake with white caps. Characters who are “neat” and “clean” and who work.
Here, once we’ve learned about how Liz is always thinking of Jim, but Jim is never thinking of Liz, Jim goes on a deer hunting trip for a few days and Liz works herself up thinking about him every night. Alone with her imagination she reaches the dramatic climax of the story, convincing herself that “everything would be all right when he came”:
Liz hadn’t known just what would happen when Jim got back but she was sure it would be something. Nothing had happened. The men were just home, that was all.
But her infatuation is still not dashed, and she waits up for Jim, who does come to her, drunk with whiskey and scaring her a little but she knows this is what she wants. Only she’s wrong, and when Jim falls asleep and she can’t even wake him up to talk she finally is dashed.
Then she walked across the dock and up the steep sandy road to go to bed. A cold mist was coming up through the woods from the bay.
How great an ending to a four-page story is that? It crystallizes the whole thing. And the emotional trip for the reader is the same as it is for Liz, getting excited while Jim is at the deer hunt, waiting for something to happen, followed by disappointment and ultimately that cold mist.
This is pretty close to perfect for me. Short, stripped down, real, and it leaves you with such a picture in your mind of the whole thing, and a strong feeling or memory at the end.