esquire 70I go back a long way as a reader and subscriber to Esquire magazine. I bought a subscription towards the end of my high school days after having read many issues at the library.

I still have some “special” issues that I saved and one is the October 1970 issue. The magazine was in a larger format then. I don’t know if that was my first subscriber issue or if I, more likely, saved it because it had Hemingway on the cover.

It has an excerpt from an unpublished novel that would be his first novel published posthumously. The section is titled “Bimini” and it would be the opening of Islands in the Stream published that same year.

I associated the magazine with writers like Hemingway and  F.Scott Fitzgerald. I read many of the classic articles like Fitzgerald’s “The Crack-Up,” “Superman Comes to the Supermarket” by Norman Mailer ,” and “A Few Words about Breasts” by Nora Ephron.

“Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” by Gay Talese was a piece I was assigned to read for a college class. It is often called one of or maybe the best magazine piece. I doubt any author wants to have to defend such an honor, but it is still an influential and talked-about story.

On the Esquire website, I listened to audio of Gay Talese with David Brancaccio discussing how this piece (part of what is now called the “New Journalism”) evolved. It’s not a spoiler to say that Talese never did get to interview Sinatra and that becomes part of the story.  Talese and Sinatra are Jersey boys, which has additional appeal to me.

But back to Papa Hemingway, who “returned” to the pages of Esquire with that excerpt.

Ernest Hemingway had been published in the magazine while he was alive. Esquire in 1970 was edited by Harold Hayes and Gordon Lish was the fiction editor. I had read years ago that Mary Hemingway and Gordon Lish had a correspondence about the publication of the “Bimini” segment of Islands in the Stream. Mrs. Hemingway was not happy with Esquire‘s treatment of her husband’s work. Lish and the magazine were hoping a posthumous appearance by Papa would boost the magazine’s diminishing sales and give it some of the literary stature it had lost by trying to be 1960s cool and hip.

I liked the story and immediately bought the book with its green map cover. The open section is “Bimini” and it is about a painter, Thomas Hudson, who lives on that island in the stream. The stream is the Gulf Stream, a powerful, warm, and swift Atlantic ocean current that originates at the tip of Florida, and follows the eastern coastlines of the United States and Newfoundland before crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

The Gulf Stream is an accelerating current – like a stream – off the east coast of North America and it splits in two, with the northern stream crossing to Northern Europe and the southern stream recirculating off West Africa.

Bimini is the westernmost of the Bahama islands located and is only 53 miles (81 km) due east of Miami.

Thomas Hudson’s house sits on the highest point of land between the harbor and the open sea. On the beach, you can safely swim in daylight because you can see incoming sharks before they become a danger, but at night, sharks do swim close to shore and feed.

The first act of the three-act novel is about divorced Hudson and a visit by his three sons for the summer.  Hemingway is probably a combination of Thomas and Roger Davis, a writer who is one of Hudson’s oldest friends. Thomas bonds as much as a father can given a summer after a long time apart.

Islands in the Stream was intended to revive Hemingway’s reputation, much like that of Esquire,  after the negative reviews of his Across the River and Into the Trees.

He wrote Across The River And Into The Trees in Italy, Cuba and France in the late 1940s. I think it was the first of his novels to really get generally bad reviews. But Hemingway was a celebrity writer. Like the recent publication of Harper Lee’s very disappointing Go Set a Watchman, Hemingway’s novel was still a bestseller in America, spending seven weeks at the top of the New York Times bestseller’s list in 1950. Surprisingly, it was Hemingway’s only novel to top that list.

Hemingway started Islands in 1950 and it was rough but seemingly finished at the time of his suicide in 1961.  Mary Hemingway found it among 332 works Hemingway left behind at his death.

It was structured as three parts of Thomas Hudson’s life and originally the sections were titled “The Sea When Young”, “The Sea When Absent” and “The Sea in Being.” The sections were retitled “Bimini”, “Cuba”, and “At Sea”.

After “Bimini” (my favorite section), the novel follows Hudson in his anti-submarine activities off the coast of Cuba during World War II (Hemingway actually did a bit of that himself) and Cuban tales including a long section about the folks at a Havana bar. My favorite of those people is an aging prostitute that is one of Papa’s female characters (never one of his strengths as a writer).

The three stories are a mature Hemingway that I like in some ways better than the younger and more famous one. Even more so in the 1986 posthumous novel, The Garden of Eden, there is a Hemingway at work that he never had the courage to show the world.

In Eden, his last uncompleted novel, Ernest Hemingway set back in the 1920s on the Côte d’Azur of a young American writer, David Bourne, and his glamorous wife, Catherine. He worked on this book intermittently from 1946 until his death in 1961 but couldn’t finish it, or perhaps didn’t want to finish it, as it would not be the Hemingway people knew. David and Catherine both fall in love with the same woman and genders get more erotically mixed than in a Shakespeare comedy. I have always thought that Hemingway’s macho bravado was in part mixed with his own questions about his masculinity which he over-compensated for with the behavior that some loved about him and many despised.