This is my first Hemingway in more than 20 years, when I read The Old Man and the Sea as a teenager and was rendered aghast by how much tedium could be squeezed into fewer than 100 pages. I’ll revisit it one day, maybe; old and wiser, and all that  — but first, a sojourn through the vast swathes of Hemingway’s I haven’t read.

To Have and Have Not is (mostly) the story of Harry Morgan, a fishing boat captain in Key West, Florida during the Great Depression. Times are tough, and when a client reneges on his payments, Harry partakes in illegal activities to make ends meet — namely running contraband (in various forms) between Cuba and Florida. Not exactly honest work, but it pays; financially at least, even as it bankrupts you morally. But what other choice is there, when the rich get richer off the backs of the poor.

The novel comprises a series of vignettes from Harry’s life as a smuggler, with detours into the lives of other residents of Key West; the “haves’” and the “have nots’.” That the book was inspired by two preceding Hemingway short stories is glaring: its various pieces aren’t entirely cohesive. It feels fragmented; the narrative doesn’t flow. But there’s still a lot to like. Hemingway’s prose is honed down and sharp. And there’s something admirable about headlining a novel with a black-hearted, unlikable protagonist. 

ISBN: 9781784872021
Imprint: Vintage Classics
Format: Paperback
Pages: 192
RRP: $19.99

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