his one’s been on the Hemingway stack for years, part of a wifey Christmas gift from long ago. Been meaning to read it. And then, tired of modern plot devices (and having seen the namesake movie with Bogart over at an outdoor showing), I decided I had to read it.
Well, the movie was good.
And the book was nothing like it.
To Have and Have Not is a collection of four short stories following the declining fortunes of Harry Morgan, an honest, pragmatic, and (at times) ruthless man who owns a boat and plies the straights between complacent Key West and turbulent Cuba in the late twenties and early thirties. Sometimes it’s sports fishing. Sometimes it’s running rum. Sometimes it’s human cargos. But with each ethical corner cutting, we see Harry getting more and more behind.
I loved this book. Hemingway writes in a blunt prose – don’t confuse this with uninspired, because it sings in its refrainment. His writing fits Morgan’s demeanor to a “T”, gritty and practical and blunt. It’s stunning how well it holds up.
I will say that I always love when “main characters” (characters we assume are beyond the direct impact of their own plotlines) are changed in horrific ways. I’m not talking about “physical” scaring, no, something far more horrible that that. When I read the section that describes the physical change to Harry following running a blockade with a hot load of run, I was shocked. I didn’t think Hemingway would do something that ruthless to a character but, well, there it was. And what was it? Read the book and find out.
And I must say, as a reader, I’ve read hundreds of cases where men have to pick up weapons and use them, coldly and ruthlessly. But when Harry Morgan has to pull out that Thompson submachine gun that he’s hidden under his engine hatch, you really get a chance to see (a) what it would feel like to fire one, and (b) what it would be like to know that your life is on the line, with your belly clenched in fear and your pulse pounding. It’s one of those moments that stay with readers forever.
And you should see what it’s like. If you want to know what being out on the stream without a dime in your pocket (and a wife and three girls at home) is like, pick up this classic and see it put modern crime dramas to shame.