“Up in Michigan” by Ernest Hemingway

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.

8 comments to “Up in Michigan” by Ernest Hemingway

  • MFB

    About four years ago I was living in New Jersey for the summer (don’t ask) and I read the entire Finca Vigía collection – one of the great reading experiences of my life. I have never read an entire Hemingway novel. What would you recommend? I will probably start it sometime in 2011, since I recently bought six books to add to the ever-growing pile of books that were there before I bought six books. However, I would still like to speculate about it and possibly buy it immediately.

  • nicole

    I am almost afraid to disappoint because I really feel like the stories are like “oh holy fuck” and the novels are great but it’s hard for anything that long to be perfect. Everyone seems to like The Sun Also Rises but I am not crazy about that one. I think I would recommend For Whom the Bell Tolls but right now I am mid-A Farewell to Arms and it is impressing me more than I expected. A Moveable Feast is also really good if you are interested in the material.

    My totally personal favorite, despite its posthumous and therefore questionable status, is The Garden of Eden, but that probably doesn’t make the best sense as a first choice.

  • I’m ambivalent about Hemingway, but this is mostly because I haven’t ever given him my full attention. I should do a proper reading of him one day and make up my mind how I feel but there is always another author getting in the way.

  • nicole

    Contemplating why I like him, I keep thinking of his famous six-word short story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

  • my baby’s feet are very cute so i always buy the best baby shoes for her-`,

  • Rupesh

    A Farewell to arms was the first Hemingway book i read and was awestruck by his unique style.

  • Rupesh

    MFB its for you, i have read almost all there is by Hemingway and i would recommend THE SUN ALSO RISES first. It is the book which established his status as the writer of genius and it actually will be totally different from anything you have read before.
    After it you can try A FAREWELL TO ARMS and FROM WHOM THE BELL TOLLS. Though i agree with Nicole about the brilliance of THE GARDEN OF EDEN but would advice you to read his short stories first and finally read that.

  • What got me started was THE GARDEN OF EDEN – could not put it down. So much said with so little prose – also loved the short stories, the novels, basically the writing style. Hemingway could write a story about washing towels and it would be hypnotically absorbing.