Night Thoughts

Article excerpt

"NO ONE KNEW the night. But I was going to learn it if I could alone and on foot," the narrator of First Light tells us late in the story. "But I was going to learn it and I did not want to share it with anyone."

At four in the morning there's not yet a false dawn rising behind the Sangre de Cristo range. Unable to sleep, I thought of Ernest deciding to learn about the night, the Several kinds of night, the dark night of the soul which he remembers Fitzgerald fixing at 3:00 a.m., and that last good night which ends every story followed far enough. So I thought I should warn the unwary that First Light is not about killing animals, shooting contests, or safari lore. The book is, among other things, the night thoughts of an aging writer remembering things past, and not wishing to think too far ahead. It is about the founding of a private, local religion: tribal rules by which a man might conduct his life. By turns comedic, reflective, discursive, and serious, True at First Light allows the Old Adam with his aging and infertile Eve to return to the dusty Garden, a ravaged Eden where memory and desire nag at him, where the center no longer holds.

The questions raised by this unclassifiable text (memoir? travel book? safari book? fiction? non-fiction?) are numerous. They concern fertility, mortality, and the condition of the spirit. They are universal questions reserved for the dark night of the soul, which should never be confused with the romantic angst of the young, nor with the anxiety dreams of middle age. The gut question is: How does it behoove a man to live in a fallen world where innocence is long lost and there is no one left to give absolution?

We may not have all of First Light, but we have enough of it to see how it relates thematically to most of what Hemingway wrote between 1946-60. Thomas Hudson, David Bourne, the young Hemingway of A Moveable Feast, and the aged Hemingway of First Light--all four are creators, name givers, talented men whose lives go astray. All four begin their creative lives in Paris, their first Eden, and all four fall from grace. Their unfortunate falls are mostly the result of women. …