When I first read it, the title bemused me. That’s not the kind of topic anyone at Hemingway’s time would’ve spoken about. Nowadays, sure. In the age of vapid vanity masquerading as fierce feminism, people would be more than happy to talk about men without women.
But Hemingway doing so? I wanted to go in and find out for myself why.
Like always, I read through the contents page. There were a list of lines that seemed like the titles of short stories rather than chapter names of a novel. Since the title on the cover felt like one for a novel, I hoped to read a thrilling tale of a group of men who lived without womenfolk.
Instead, I stumbled on many little stories and into the lives of many men whose egos, societal pressure, and selfish greed for power had hardened them. I had opened the book and fallen into a world of men, all of whom had no sense of what they were missing in life.
The book had a total of fourteen tales, and every one of them had vivid characters that jumped out at me. At least one character in a story refused to give in to his surroundings. I don’t know how having a woman in their lives would’ve changed their actions, but as a woman reading these men, I realised they were just jerks. And at some parts, their actions went beyond enlightening and entertained as well.
But it wasn’t all proud men wearing garlands of thorns. Some of the stories were a little dull, I admit. But every time I closed the book, thinking I’d read it later, the men on the cover called out to me. There was something about the picture on the cover, something about the three men smiling without a care in the world. As the book lay on my table, it made me wonder who those men would be and how the title of the book related to them. Men drinking and smoking, laughing and chatting — what did they speak of? Just the sight of the cover made me open the book again, hoping I’d find the answer in one of the stories.
I didn’t find the answer or the relationship between the title and the stories until after I finished the book. Two days after I had read the final story, it dawned on me how each story developed, and how every man in every story was walking proof of an empty life. And that’s when I appreciated the true power of Hemingway’s writing.
Whenever the plot vaned, Hemingway soared with the narrative. For a long time, I’ve basked in the image of Ernest Hemingway being an earnest writer. And this book proved it again. Some of the sentences and word choices popped out from print, making me gawk in awe at Hemingway’s simplicity with narrative. It’s unbelievable how basic words, with basic structure, can radiate depths of meaning. Such was Men Without Women — a joyous read.