Top critical review
The Good, the Bad and the Mediocre...
on August 12, 2010
The Good, the Bad, and the Mediocre...
...in that order. I'd probably give this book 3.5 stars, somewhere between it was good and it was OK, if I could.
The first of the three sections of this novel is truly good. It introduces us to Thomas Hudson, a painter and a thinly veiled Hemingway, and his life on the island of Bimini. Hudson, like Hemingway, is an artist who is serious about his craft and about his work ethic. We learn of his life among the characters of the island, including the locals and his friends. The richest part of all is the visit of his three sons (by his first two wives) and the good times they share. There is good character development of all three boys, each so different from the others and each showing different parts of their father's personality. And there are the friends and servants of Hudson's, whom he loves and who play important parts in his son's lives, often where it is difficult for a father to enter. There is a tense shark attack and an epic battle with a monster marlin by the middle son, and there is a great deal of psychology of boys and men woven richly throughout. Hudson is a father who can't seem to love all-out, whole-heartedly, even though his sons need and want it. The feelings are there but the wiring in Hudson's head and heart shorts out a little and never conducts his deepest, truest self to his boys. Tragically, Hudson learns of the death of his two youngest sons and their mother (his second wife) at the close of the story.
The middle section of the book certainly has some good description and some realistic conversation, but overall it is one running conversation after another, mostly in the context of a bar where Hudson and his companions (who come and go) are drinking heavily, about very little of any importance. Hudson has just gotten wind of his first son's death (a pilot in WWII) and ultimately this accounts for the drinking but probably also for the attempts by Hudson to avoid any topic of significance in his conversations with others. Hudson's first wife and the only woman he ever deeply loved shows up and they have a rendezvous before Hudson can work up the fortitude to tell her of their son's death. They grieve and love together and she has to leave. All in all, a draggy and hopeless section of this story that doesn't live up to the first and last sections.
The last section follows Hudson and his crew as they conduct anti-submarine activities from his small ship (or large boat) in and around Cuba. The story is a game of cat and mouse in which Hudson and his crew is the cat and the surviving crew members from a German U-boat is the mouse. Hemingway builds tension in the hunt and between Hudson's crew members well. There are some really exciting moments and some truly touching interaction between Hudson and his crew, as they must try to overcome their differences and dislikes of each other to band together to find and fight the enemy. After the middle section this is a welcome change...there is actually stuff happening here, a plot. But it does pail in comparison to the richness of the opening section of this book.
All in all, I was glad I read this but the middle section prevents me from liking this book with anything close to whole-heartedness. And if you are someone who enjoys happy endings, none of the three sections of this book end that way. The reader is left thinking that likely, as the sons went, so the father goes. There is much tragedy and hopelessness in this book, which too is a fair reflection of Hemingway's own life.