A quick note: For some great literary tourism in the state of Michigan, check out my recent post on Book Riot. You can now find me rioting on there regularly!
Featured Literature: The Nick Adams Stories
I revisited this collection of stories for the first time in years because I’ve always felt it is a quintessential piece of Michigan literature. One of the reasons I’ve abstained from featuring it on here is because I thought it was too predictable, that perhaps Michiganders were tired about Hemingway and his love for fishing on and around Walloon Lake. But upon rereading these stories, some of which are more like snapshots, I realized if I introduced any Michigan native (or anyone at all for that matter) to this collection it’d be worth it.
With that said, Ernest Hemingway is one of the most canonized and celebrated American authors of the past century, but even if you are familiar with his writing, there are several attributes that make this collection of stories different from his other work. Firstly, and obviously, many of the stories take place in Michigan. My personal favorites are “The Indians Moved Away”, “Big Two-Hearted River”, and “On Writing”. (If any of you drink Two Hearted Ale and were curious about the name, it comes from the river which Hem writes about)
But what I enjoy most about these stories is the brash and candid dialogue that purveys throughout them, and while this is typical of Hemingway, it feels surprisingly more personal with Nick Adams as opposed to other characters. At times it seems Papa is trying to convey his direct thoughts, express fears and complexities every young man faces. Nick Adams opines the confusion of growing up, exploring nature, and finding his place amongst others. This can make the prose feel raw and unabashed, sometimes even erotic compared to Hemingway’s other work. Not that Hemingway has ever been afraid to talk about sex, but with Nick Adams it can be a bit more crass than his major works.
Mainly, the Nick Adams story capture pivotal snippets of a man’s life, leaving significant gaps that are as important as the stories themselves. We see a boy grow up in Michigan, then go out into the world, and then come back to his beautiful home state. From what I’ve read, I consider this some of Hemingway’s most unrestrained and colloquial prose, having the quality of each story being limited to a specific place. Creating a local setting for each story allows Hem to hone in on vivid details and makes each one seem that much more real. It is for this reason that he does such a tremendous job describing Michigan. Without the focus on continuity, we in ways find Nick Adams a more complete character, and we find his native land, being Michigan, more whole as well.