Hoaxing Hemingway: Ernest Hemingway as Character and Presence in Joe Haldeman's the Hemingway Hoax (1990)

By Morse, Donald E. | Extrapolation, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview
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Hoaxing Hemingway: Ernest Hemingway as Character and Presence in Joe Haldeman's the Hemingway Hoax (1990)


Morse, Donald E., Extrapolation


Gertrude Stein once remarked "that life today had ceased to be 'real' and become 'strange,'--so what was the use any longer of being 'realistic'?" (qtd. in Brooks 116). She might well have been speaking of Joe Haldeman's complex, entertainingly vivid science fiction novella, The Hemingway Hoax (1990). Haldeman draws on Hemingway's life, fiction, and expressed values for not one but three distinctly different characters that share crucial characteristics with the historical Hemingway. John Baird, the main character attempting to write a Hemingway short story actually metamorphoses into Hemingway himself, Ernest Hemingway--a figure derived from the biographies, and a third non-human Hemingway look-alike. (1) The novella's complex plot weaves all three characters together in a highly original science fiction based on the theoretical idea of the Omniverse although, at first, it appears as a stereotypical story of an attempted literary forgery. John Baird's forgery, composed of bits and pieces of Hemingway's fiction mixed with facts from his biography, results in Haldeman's witty "re-creation" of one of the lost early Hemingway stories set on the Italian front. (2) This forgery plot becomes, in turn, interleaved with a fantastic counter plot involving shadowy, malevolent figures from the interstices between parallel, multiple universes who, for their own compelling reasons, are determined to prevent the forgery from succeeding. The result is a "Hemingway hoax" in at least three or, possibly, four or even five different senses.

The first hoax involves Baird's forgery of the Hemingway story--a brilliant pastiche made from scraps of other stories. To make this fake story convincingly authentic, Baird types it on a 1921 Corona portable similar to Hemingway's typewriter with its idiosyncratic keyboard. The second hoax involves attempting to pass that Hemingway pastiche off as an authentic Hemingway story of the Italian Front miraculously recovered from the famous stolen valise of 1922. The third hoax lies in the assumed Hemingway identity of the intruder from "the future and the past and other temporalities that you can't comprehend" (57). This latter day Proteus boasts "I can look like anyone I want" (57) and so for his current assignment of stopping the Hemingway forgery it appropriately assumes the appearance of Hemingway at various stages of his life from youngster to suicide. A fourth possible application of the notion of "hoax" resides in the consequences of a world's wholesale adoption of Hemingway machismo values. Those values embodied in his fiction became closely identified with what Gertrude Stein called "the lost generation" and the novella postulates that they "have an accumulating effect on the masculine side of the American national character" (62-63). In several of Haldeman's fictional parallel universes, for instance, the accumulation of these values reaches so far beyond a single generation or individual nation that they come to dominate global realpolitik. In the year 2006, the president of the United States and the dictator of the USSR--each with his finger on a nuclear trigger--square-off like old fashioned gunfighters at the OK corral or like Hemingway heroes, each willing to demonstrate that he is a "real man" when insulted "beyond forgiveness." But what was admirable in novels and stories proves destructive when acted out in life:

   two middle-aged politicians ... on 11 August 2006 would be president
   and premier of their countries. On that day, one would insult the
   other beyond forgiveness, and a button would be pushed, and then
   another button, and by the time the sun set on Moscow, or rose on
   Washington, there would be nothing left alive on the planet at
   all--from the bottom of the ocean to the top of the atmosphere; not a
   cockroach, not a paramecium, not a virus, and all because there are
   some things a man just doesn't have to take, not if he's a real man.
   (124-25)

The predictable apocalyptic result of these middle-aged politicians stupid, macho action will destroy all life not only on this earth but also on all the earths in several parallel universes.

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