Review: My War With Hemingway by James Charles

My War with HemingwayMy War with Hemingway by J. C. Arlington

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My War with Hemingway follows Zach, a post-Iraqi and Afghanistan war veteran hounded by his experiences in the wars and the aftermath of such violence. True to the blurb, Zach contemplates suicide while on leave, still active duty and haunted by the losses he’s suffered, and is visited by a man calling himself Stein. This man turns out to be Ernest Hemingway and turns out to be a consistent character in the book, preventing Zach from committing suicide and setting the stage for the rest of the drama to unfold.

I spent the vast majority of the book wondering about Stein/Hem’s purpose in the story – how Zach continually meets up with him, often in foreign countries, and physically engages with him. Since Hemingway is clearly dead, and Zach knows that, he too is clueless about how it all works, or why he sees Hem at varying ages and at different stages of the writer’s life, and rarely in a linear time fashion. He simply comes to accepts and then comes to expect and depend upon the recurring visitations.

I also wondered about the title. What kind of war was waged between Zach and Hemingway? I’m still not entirely sure, thinking perhaps a greater familiarity with Hemingway’s life as a man, husband, author and a coterie of other titles might have served me well in understanding the psychological symbolism Hem played for Zach.

This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the book. Putting all my questions aside, I was quickly drawn in by Zach’s character and the first person point of view. Not an alcoholic or combat duty war veteran myself, Charles writes with such intimate description and familiarity that personal experience is unnecessary in order to relate to Zach and his struggles. Charles brings Zach to vivid emotional life and transports us along as his main character tries to do right for so many others yet can’t seem to stop drinking, or recognize that the alcohol is the biggest reason for his continual downward spiral. I enjoy a book that allows me to emotionally connect with and understand a character even if they come from an entirely different walk of life, and this book did that for me.

I also have to say I wasn’t satisfied with the ending. While overjoyed at romantic reunions, I found the ending rushed and wrapped up a little too nicely, directly contrasting the lengthy struggles Zach went through. Charles gives us a succinct conclusion; offering up details in the manner of catching up an old friend by glossing over the gory details of a hard life lived, explaining all of Zach’s troubles away through psychological terminology and diagnoses. Even with these diagnoses and a fairly good layman’s understanding of them, I had a hard time digesting and accepting Zach’s motivations for abstaining from alcohol and the truncations of his treatment and efforts at establishing and maintaining his sobriety due solely to the truth of why his beloved Jessica left.

This is an unfortunate read for me. While I enjoyed it, I feel like I missed the point the author was trying to convey, particularly if that point extends beyond an unabashed intimate look into the mind of a war veteran suffering from PTSD and alcoholism. For that I applaud the author for such a raw, candid perspective. What fell short for me was the intimate association with Hemingway and what parallels Charles was trying to communicate in this plot device. This may have nothing at all to do with the author himself or the writing, but, again, a lack of familiarity with Hemingway.

On an editorial note, there were quite a few editing misses.

Page 37: I’m glad they didn’t (missing word, take?) his leg; they gave him a new titanium knee.
Page 39: A Moment (why is this word capitalized?) later the buzzer sounds and I open the door.
Page 57: “Okay. I’ll see (missing word: you) Thursday.”
Page 95: “Your (you’re) conflicted.”
Page 97: We tear one another’s closes (clothes) off.
Page 97: I kiss her belly and explore her with my tongue, her moaning so load (loud) I worry someone will hear and I’ll get evicted.
Page 110: “America did not either. (missing end quotation)
Page 123: I stoke (stroke) her hair and shake my head.
Page 125: “Mug you? “(misplaced quotation mark)You’re joking?”
Page 139: “Some nut shot up a convenience store and is hold up (holed up) there with hostages.”
Page 140: “What’s you (your) name again?”
Page 163: I hail a cab and pay a huge fare to JKF. (JFK)
Page 189: In one dream Sergeant Evans lied (lay) in the middle of the Baghdad street snoring.
Page 193: I shoot Dale a glance, but he has already moved on to the other girl on the another (other) sofa.
Page 201: I’ve see (seen) her too.
Page 208: I received a few job offers, including one in Pittsburg (Pittsburgh) and one in Baltimore,
Page 239: “You’re the one know (who) needs this.”
Page 290: Of course loosing (losing) Jimmy and the others didn’t help.

On a more positive and closing note, this book did pique my interest in Hemingway’s works and life, so bonus points make up partially for what was missing for me.

I give My War With Hemingway 3 stars out of 5.

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