cover image Hemingway's Boat: Everything He Loved in Life and Lost, 1934%E2%80%931961

Hemingway's Boat: Everything He Loved in Life and Lost, 1934%E2%80%931961

Paul Hendrickson. Knopf, $30 (560p) ISBN 978-1-4000-4162-6

NBCC%E2%80%93award winner Hendrickson (Sons of Mississippi) offers an admirably absorbing, important, and moving interpretation of Hemingway's ambitions, passions, and tragedies during the last 27 years of his life. When Hemingway purchased the sleek fishing boat Pilar in 1934, he was on the cusp of literary celebrity, flush with good health, and ebullient about pursuing deep sea adventures. The release from his desk was a reward for productive writing and the change replenished his creative energy. But eventually Hemingway's health and work declined. When he committed suicide in 1961, he hadn't been aboard the Pilar in many months. Acutely sensitive to his subject's volatile, "gratuitously mean" personality, Hendrickson offers fascinating details and sheds new light on Hemingway's kinder, more generous side from interviews with people befriended by Hemingway in his prime. Most importantly, Hendrickson interviewed each of Hemingway's sons. He suggests, not for the first time but with poignant detail, the probability that Papa's youngest son, Gregory (Gigi), a compulsive cross-dresser who eventually had gender-altering surgery, was acting out impulses that his father yearned for yet denied. Hendrickson makes new connections between ex-wife Pauline's sudden death after Hemingway's cruel accusations against Gigi, and Gigi's lifelong guilt over her death. In the end, Hendrickson writes of the tormented Gigi and his conflicted father, "I consider them far braver than we ever knew." 23 illus. (Sept. 23)