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  • Writer's pictureCharles I. Guarria

Hemingway's Islands In The Stream: A Review

Islands in the Stream was published posthumously in 1970 by Ernest Hemingway's wife, Mary Hemingway. Mr. Hemingway had passed nine years earlier by a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Whether it was suicide or accidental is an open question.

At the time of his death, Mr. Hemingway had written 332 unpublished works. Of those, Ms. Hemingway chose Islands in the Stream to publish first because "it seemed to me the best and most complete of the many unpublished manuscripts Ernest left behind," she told the New York Times approximately two months before it was released. 

Islands in the Stream has its moments, but not enough of them. Mostly, it is filled with pointless scenes that bend towards disjointed meaninglessness. 

Seemingly every character drinks, all of the time. Their stories don't connect to form a larger story arc. Perhaps it is too high a bar to have connectivity between drunkards, which could have been Hemingway's point.

There was no drama regarding the deaths that took place. 

The main character is Thomas Hudson. He is divorced, has three sons, a close friend, and is a functional alcoholic who has a pretty important job in the Navy as a Captain during WWII.

The book has three main settings, Bimini, Cuba, and At Sea. World War II acts as the backdrop for most of the book. 

Of course, Mr. Hemingway delivers some good lines. 

I found priceless Thomas Hudson's comparison of Hong Kong millionaires looking for women to recruit into prostitution to the Brooklyn Dodgers looking for baseball players. "Oh, in Hong Kong the millionaires had scouts all through the country. All over China. It was just like the Brooklyn Dodgers' baseball team looking for ballplayers. As soon as a beautiful girl was located in any town or village their agents bought her and she was shipped in and trained and groomed and cared for."

In regards Thomas Hudson's very thin girlfriend who would sleep with him but not in her bed nor a hotel he comments, "I thought what the hell is the use of being so damned emancipated if you can't go to bed. I thought if we are going to be emancipated, let's free the sheets."

A third example is when Thomas Hudson's ex-wife, Ginny Watson, quipped, "The one thing you were always faithful to was good wine." His reply, "Admirable of me, wasn't it?"

Islands in the Stream occasionally sneaks onto a Hemingway top ten ranking. I looked at many trusted sources. When listed, it seems to land at eight or nine most of the time.

Bottom line: The dialog is good. But the book as a whole rates 5.5 out of 10. 


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