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"Simple"? Hardly. Taking Exception to Opinion on Hemingway

I'm not writing because I object to Ole Giese's critique of my short story in his letter to the editor ("Losing Fiction Entrant Critiques Judges, Winners," Nov. 1). I think it's a cheap and silly tactic to use quote marks to denote an ironic tone, but because it's possible English isn't Mr. Giese's first language, I'll disregard the grammatical errors and verbal inanities in his letter.

One point, though, I won't ignore. He stated that "had Ernest Hemingway been alive and entered your contest, the simple yet creative beauty of his prose would probably not have qualified him as a winner. He would not have been 'sophisticated' and 'profound' enough."

This opinion is not only silly. It's grossly misinformed.

One should never confuse a terse, clipped style with thematic simplicity. Hemingway's prose has survived precisely because it has been deemed sophisticated and profound enough to enter the canon. Scholars have written entire books just about the first sentence of "A Farewell to Arms." Critics and students continue to analyze Hemingway's work. It's anything but simple.

For instance, "Hills Like White Elephants," one of his most famous short stories, is included in the required reading for many college freshman English courses. In the story, the male character argues for "a simple procedure." That is, he's trying to convince his girlfriend to have an abortion. The reader must make this inference from the seemingly innocuous dialog that constitutes the bulk the story. Of course, at the time of its writing, abortion was an illegal and dangerous procedure, not a simple one. Hemingway trusts the reader to know this, too. He depicts this potentially volatile situation very subtly. Therein lies the story's enduring strength and appeal.

Somehow, I infer that Mr. Giese hasn't read Hemingway in a long time, or that he's not read Hemingway very well. In the end — I'll put this simply — isn't it always better to make arguments from firsthand knowledge rather than hearsay and presumption?

Catherine Baab
Second-place winner
Style Weekly Fiction Contest

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