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REVIEW:  Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway

REVIEW: Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway

CARINA_1213_9781426897672_DomProject_final_500Solace Ames is a Japanese-American writer with roots in the Southeast US, although her heart lives somewhere along the Pacific coast of Mexico. She’s worked in restaurants, strip clubs, academia and the corporate world and studied everything from the philosophy of science to queer theory to medieval Spanish literature. Rejecting neat categories, her writing sprawls across genres and genders and swings from high art to low art, marching with the erotic avant-garde, tongue sometimes in cheek and at other times… well. Along with writing, education and political activism are her passions. Family takes up most of her time, but she loves to keep learning.

Stay tuned for LA Doms from Carina Press, a smart and sexy BDSM erotic romance series, influenced more by Cara McKenna than Hemingway. The first book, The Dom Project, cowritten with Heloise Belleau, drops this Christmas, and is available for preorder at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Ernest Hemingway Garden of Eden

Title of Book: The Garden of Eden

Author: Ernest Hemingway

Publisher: Scribner

Length: Novel

Primary Relationship(s): M/F, F/F, M/F/F

 

I read The Garden of Eden not long after it was published—it was published posthumously, in 1986, long after Hemingway died. He’d worked on it intermittently between 1946 and 1961. I’d never been much of a Hemingway fan. Like everyone, I’d read “The Old Man and the Sea,” and I admired his prose style but was generally unmoved by his themes. A moping, melancholy sort of masculinity seemed to permeate his stuff. I don’t care about hunting, and don’t like reading about soldiers, either, if all they’re going to talk about is the manpain of soldiering.

 

I believe The Garden of Eden shows all of Hemingway’s strengths and turns his weaknesses into strengths. It’s an incredibly polarizing novel. Detractors say that this is a book where nothing happens. A woman gets a haircut, starts up a love triangle, there’s some eating and drinking and fucking and lots of arguing, then the woman goes crazy and runs off. Nobody fights in a war. There’s an elephant hunt, but it’s entirely metafictional, and serves mainly as a point for a boy (the man’s memoir-ized younger self) to yell out, “Fuck elephant hunting!” And then the narrative… ends.

Admirers, like me, will point to the uniqueness, the ambiguity, the sensuality.

Many years later, I decided to try to read The Garden of Eden as a modern erotic novel, as genre, not as a work of “literary fiction”. So let’s see how it holds up under this anachronistic frame.

First off, there’s no explicit sex whatsoever. Everything is told in allusion and suggestion. It’s an incredibly easy-to-read, fast-flowing novel, but it’s one that is not going to tell you exactly how the characters feel, or how they fuck. That makes it easy to miss things, and I missed a lot the first time around. Some of the most intense sex actually happens during the first thirty pages, when we meet David and Catherine on their honeymoon. Reading this a long time ago, I was aware some sort of role reversal goes on. Catherine goes to town, gets a man’s haircut, and announces she has become a boy. That night, she tells her husband that she’s going to “take him,” and does something to him, though I was totally confused as to the details. Was she getting on top of him?

Reading this book, modern readers are frequently reminded that the past is indeed another country. Catherine’s butch haircut, her choice of sexual language, assume much more charged meanings back then. But it’s still daring according to a totally contemporary reading, because the second time around, it’s totally obvious she’s fingerfucking him, or maybe even pegging.

He lay there and felt something and then her hand holding him and searching lower and he helped with his hands and then lay back in the dark and did not think at all and only felt the weight and the strangeness inside and she said, “Now you can’t tell who is who can you?”

So let’s call The Garden of Eden psychological erotica. Aesthetic erotica. In modern terms, we’ve got genderswitching, a possibly genderqueer character in Catherine, D/s powerplay, MFF menage, light incest roleplay (Catherine pressures David into dying her hair the same color as his, and they pretend they’re brothers at several points).

He’s rather ambivalent and enjoys some but not all of it. His ambivalence, his fear, isn’t explicitly eroticized, but there is an implicit erotic trace of forced feminization. He’s deeply passive.

 

“David?”

“Yes.”

“How are you girl?”

“I’m fine.”

Catherine metaphysically genders herself male. She’s the destroyer; he’s the creator. As a writer, he stands in for Hemingway. I won’t go so far as to call him a Gary Stu, but damn, the parallels are pretty obvious. The whole Mediterranean trip, he’s working on two separate writing projects: “the stories,” which are stereotypical Hemingway (a boy on an elephant hunt in Africa ponders his relationship to a wounded elephant, his Great White Hunter father and his servile black porter) and “the narrative”, an account of his increasingly complicated relationship with his gender-variant, mentally ill wife, and how they take another woman lover. Gendered male writing versus female writing. Catherine hates “the stories” but loves “the narrative”, because in the later part of the book she’s presented as utterly narcissistic and un-nurturing of his creative energy. She wants to control him, which is exciting sexually but creatively impossible and tragic.

In the very beginning, while the book is still predominantly playful:

 

“I have these flashes of intuition,” he said. “I’m the inventive type.”

“I’m the destructive type,” she said. “And I’m going to destroy you. They’ll put a plaque up on the wall of the building outside the room. I’m going to wake up in the night and do something to you that you’ve never heard of or imagined. I was going to last night but I was too sleepy.”

The main problem with framing this as an erotic novel is that it doesn’t lend itself to an single sexualized perspective. It’s written by (I presume) a straight man and the POV character is a straight man (although we might call him heteroflexible at certain points) but the audience isn’t really straight men. I’ve read high-flown books like that, and this isn’t it. I don’t know what the audience is; I doubt Hemingway knew either. It’s very much about gender and genderplay, but it’s not really centered on female sexuality, and it leaves a lot of women readers cold. One reason is that the sex and love isn’t very female-positive or even sex-positive. And it’s definitely not queer-positive. There’s a space of freedom and of punishment, and the two are never entirely separated, either in geographic space or in character’s minds. It’s entirely possible to read this as a reactionary message in which being queer will drive you crazy.

But then, it’s written in such a way that it’s also easy to ignore that message! That’s the beauty of the style. And the style is beautiful—absolutely stunning and gorgeous. David almost never has interior monologues, and when he does, they’re a few sentences that assume an especially potent meaning because of the rarity. His speech is unconsidered, curt, frequently petulant, often witty. Character express emotions entirely opaque to themselves. We travel through the Mediterranean Coast, savoring food and knocking back martinis and taking long swims and soaking in the sun until minds become plastic and receptive to new emotions and sensations, but we’re not told exactly what to feel. We have to decide ourselves. I love that freedom.

In the technical details, as a writer, I’m in awe. One of the keys to Hemingway’s style is his lack of clutter in modifiers. There are few adjectives or adverbs. He makes sentences new and strange by packing a lot of meaning in—of all places—the conjunctions. Long chains of ands, a fascinating but, an unexpected because: ”In the cafe he found the paper and ordered himself a fine à l’eau because he felt empty and hollow from making love.”

So! The passages of desire and sexual freedom are not chained to passages where norms are reinforced. Here’s an example:

‘Do you agree, Heiress? About perversion?’

‘I always thought it was overrated and silly,’ she said. ‘It’s only something girls do because they have nothing better.’

‘But one’s first time at anything is interesting,’ Catherine said.

‘Yes,’ David said. ‘But would you want to always talk about your first ride at Steeplechase Park or how you, yourself, personally soloed alone all by yourself in a plane absolutely away from the earth and up in the sky?’

‘I’m ashamed,’ said Catherine. ‘Look at me and see if I’m not ashamed.’

I shouldn’t have to point out that this is a deeply, deeply ambiguous condemnation.

The most disturbing element of the story is Catherine’s mental illness, which she herself links to her jealousy of David’s writing ability. She also begins to hold her money over him. His writing is hers, she claims, because he wrote it on her dime. This hit me hard as a 1950s female-character trope. It’s reminiscent of Mildred Pierce, a great book by James Cain, but one that’s also horrendously depressing in terms of limiting female sexuality and power. Mildred Pierce is a self-made older woman who takes an aristocratic lover on hard times, and she begins passing him money so he can support himself, and in doing so, unmans him. Because of her support, it’s presented as her own fault when he begins a relationship with her daughter. The greatest sin for a woman is not to have lesbian sex against her husband’s wishes (like Catherine) or obtain his dubious consent to feminize him and penetrate him (like Catherine)… it’s to flaunt her money. Her public power. That’s the truly unforgivable seizure of masculinity. Sigh.

But like I said, because of the style and because of the lack of a real ending, it’s possible to work around this, and to read the book as amazingly innovative for its time, and even for our time. If I wrote my own ending for the book, Catherine would take responsibility for her mental illness, come back to David and apologize for mistreating him and Marita. He’d stop acting so petulantly passive-aggressive and would embrace his inner sissy. And then Marita would actually develop a personality, instead of being a mouthpiece for whatever random psychosexual dynamic Hemingway rolled the dice for. They’d have an awesome jetsetting three-way relationship in which David would write anachronistically feminist erotica with Catherine’s financial support while Marita served them martinis, but then they’d all die of skin cancer because of their near-religious devotion to tanning (seriously, the tanning stuff freaked me out, I kept wanting to yell YOU PEOPLE ARE TOO WHITE FOR THAT OMG SPF MELANOMA at them).

The metafictional stuff in this book is also amazing. The way that David mirrors Hemingway, or is an eroticized wish-fulfillment feminized stand-in for Hemingway… I’m not really into psychologizing writers, but this narrative absolutely invites it, because Hemingway was always sort of a rock star kind of writer, playing on his public persona, and this is almost like him writing RPF of himself.

At one point in the book, David tells himself about writing, “If you don’t finish, nothing is worth a damn.” That’s so meta it hurts. Hemingway never finished it. It’s still damn good.

 

“You know, I liked the book. Has it done well?”

“It’s done pretty well.”

“It moved me very deeply,” the Colonel said. “You’re a deceptive son of a bitch.”

So thank you for writing this, you deceptive son of a bitch, even if you never finished it. I tip my hat in the direction of your grave.

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REVIEW:  In the Clear by Tamara Morgan

REVIEW: In the Clear by Tamara Morgan

This is a second in a series of books reviewed by authors.  This is an open invitation for any author to submit reviews of books that get very little attention but that he or she liked very much. In issuing the invitation, I’ve asked the authors to review books authored by people they have no real contact with – they aren’t in the same RWA chapter or they aren’t critique partners. I hope that this is one way we can bring an authorial reviewer voice to Dear Author without the conflicts. So if you are an author, editor, publicist, etc. and there is a book you think deserves more attention, send me a review!

In the Clear (Winter Rescue)

 

It’s probably not a secret by now that I love novellas. There’s a grace and compactness to them that, when done well, makes for a beautiful gem of a story. And that’s what we have here: a beautiful gem of a story.

I was utterly charmed from the first word to the last. (Really from the first word. After I recommended this book on my Facebook site, one of my readers posted that it had the best first line ever. I’ve seen some pretty good first lines in my life, but this one still makes me smile every time. And then slowly start laughing again.)

First of all, Fletcher, the beta hero. Can we get a shout-out for beta heroes? For this man who has been in love with Lexie forever but is afraid of change, afraid of losing his best friends, twins Sean and Lexie, by being too “creepy” and letting his attraction to Lexie show. For Fletcher, who carefully keeps it all hidden inside, because his friends are so valuable to him. But who reveals his attention and love and care in countless tiny gestures. I adored this little scene, for example, when Lexie brings lunch by his workplace:

Burger and fries for him, milkshake on the side. A tiny green salad for herself. He arranged his food neatly in front of him, being careful to put the fries in the middle of the desk. For as long as he could remember, Lexie had a habit of buying herself rabbit food and then proceeding to eat most of her companions’ side dishes, never aware of her wandering fork. He usually ordered extra of the things she liked for that reason – she had no idea he didn’t actually care for chocolate cake.

I just love this. Love it. That silent attention and care that has been going on for years, without the heroine ever realizing it. Just for little details like that alone, this novella is a delight. I often highlight things authors do that I admire, that I would like to learn from. The second time reading this, I had to stop, because my text was starting to look like a bumblebee, and highlighting nearly everything does tend to defeat the purpose of highlight. But how can you resist something like this little capture of Sean, the brother?

He’ll judge me. And don’t you dare look at me like that. You know how he gets when I’ve done one of my screw-ups…He gets that uppity look on his face and starts brushing at his imaginary lint.”

“He does brush at imaginary lint a lot, doesn’t he?”

Lexie giggled. She knew she couldn’t be the only person to notice that personal weakness affected her brother like a bad case of dandruff.

The word-lover in me is utterly delighted. A bad case of dandruff. It’s too perfect.

Don’t be turned off by the secret superhero announced in the blurb. I confess the idea might have stopped me, if I hadn’t already developed a deep trust in Tamara’s writing over the past few months, starting from when I first picked up Confidence Tricks (a thief caper with two main characters I just loved). Whatever else, I know that her characters will not be a facile cliché.

And Fletcher isn’t. He’s too afraid to fill out that college application and change his life, but he’s strong enough to save a woman from a frozen lake, and above all he’s strong enough to be there, be the one the heroine can count on, the one who sees her value and who will always be there for her.

And then there’s Lexie, just as vulnerable and determined, so sure she is a mess, the sidekick to her twin brother and his friend, still wounded that, somehow, she’s the third wheel, that Fletcher can’t be her best friend, too.

I’m delighted by her from the first, but I love her from the end of chapter one, when Sean, her unwittingly devastating twin brother, rolls his eyes at her table behavior and then shakes his head: “Never mind. I can believe it. And that’s why Fletcher refuses to reveal his secrets to you.”

 “Because I lack finesse?”

“No. Because you’re you.”

She let out an irritated noise and promptly drowned every last one of her sorrows in her glass. She couldn’t count how many things in her life had been denied her by virtue of being herself. Success. Respect. Dates.

But after twenty-six years of practice and still not getting it right, who the heck else was she supposed to be?

Exactly. Who can’t identify with that feeling, or even that realization? Who the heck else am I supposed to be?

I love the way their relationship develops, the way we can see her trying to worm herself deeper and deeper into Fletcher’s life, without her quite being aware at first what that need to be closer to him really means. The way we learn that she does, in fact, know Fletcher doesn’t like chocolate cake, but doesn’t know to credit his reasons for buying it to herself. She, too, has her own insecurities, and the story clearly and believably draws the reasons for this. But while she may not know she’s in love with him, she sees him—truly sees him and cares for him—just as well as he sees her.

The brother, Sean, who stands in so many ways between them, limits their abilities to truly understand what is developing between these two, and yet also highlights that development both for the reader and for the main characters as they learn to call his statements into question. So, for example, Sean discourages his sister from calling Fletcher about her discovery of his hero moonlighting:

“You’ll make him feel weird about it. That’s what you do. Whenever you get excited about something, you bounce all over him like he’s some kind of trampoline. But Fletcher isn’t springy like that – he just absorbs it. And you never see the dents you leave behind.”

Lexie is understandably wounded by this and cast into self-doubt, but later she thinks: Maybe Sean is right. Maybe I do flail and leave dents behind.

 But for some reason, she’d always thought Fletcher was the one person able to withstand them.

And that is the essence of this story. They are the ones who are right for each other. They just don’t realize it, partly because of Sean, and mostly because each one doesn’t realize his or her own rightness. That they are worthy people.

And Tamara Morgan handles this beautiful double trope of best friend’s sister and friends-to-lovers with her usual deft hand, deepening the reader experience with her wit and way of capturing characters, while adroitly avoiding the cliché. I love, for example, Lexie’s reaction to the compass. It was one of those classic Tamara Morgan moments, where I’m just starting to anticipate disappointment, just starting to think that facile cliché is coming – and then Lexie reacts completely differently from what I was expecting, and yet in a way completely fitting to her character and her relationship with Fletcher.

This twisting away from the facile provides a freshness and depth and reality to this story which, coupled with the insight and humor and the pure adorable charm of this couple, makes for a lovely way to spend an hour and a half. (At 37,000 words, this novella is actually close to the length RWA allows for “short novels”—40,000 words. The length felt just right for the story.)

An adorable and profoundly comforting story. I think it might become one of my comfort reads.

- Laura Florand

 

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 Laura Florand compilation


Laura Florand 
is the award-winning author of the Amour et Chocolat series (The Chocolate Thief, The Chocolate Kiss…), where sexy Parisian chocolatiers woo the women they love with what they love best – romance you can taste. Her books have been translated into seven languages, received the RT Seal of Excellence and starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, and been recommended by USA Today, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, and Dear Author, among others, and twice been selected as Sizzling Book Club Picks by Smart B*, Trashy Books. They’ve even been selected for the infamous (legendary? notorious?) DABWAHA! She was born in Georgia, but the travel bug bit her early. After a Fulbright year in Tahiti, a semester in Spain, and backpacking everywhere from New Zealand to Greece, she ended up living in Paris, where she met and married her own handsome Frenchman, a story told in her first book Blame It on Paris.  Now a lecturer at Duke University, she is very dedicated to her research into French chocolate. For a glimpse behind the scenes of some of that research as well as recommendations for US chocolate, make sure to check out her website: www.lauraflorand.com.