- Reading Hemingway's To Have and Have Not: Glossary and Commentary by Kirk Curnutt
The tropical broil that was the Conch Republic in June 2004 as we gathered for the 11th Biennial International Hemingway Society Key West conference is an easy memory to call forth. For a splendid week, we loafed around the Casa Marina swimming pool, delicious cocktails in hand, and debated the many challenges presented by Hemingway's 1937 novel To Have and Have Not, a book considered by most critics to be quite an embarrassing belly flop. Kirk Curnutt, the conference organizer along with Gail Sinclair, was responsible for arranging the sessions and panels, the vast majority of which focused on Hemingway's Key West years and their influence on Harry Morgan's navigation of the perilous waters separating the haves and the have nots. It seems surreal now to be reviewing a copy of Curnutt's incredibly important annotated guide to the novel a mere thirteen years after a conference that reopened a long-standing critical conversation that had never managed to produce very many satisfying conclusions. The fact that Curnutt's text is now in print and [End Page 152] that I am detailing its many merits here indicates Hemingway studies as a movement is healthy indeed.
The central focus of Curnutt's project was daunting: What are we to do when a novel clearly reveals the author lost the beat while revising it and the publisher effectively gave up on it, not even bothering to correct well-documented and glaring errors? Curnutt's frank approach to this quandary in the prefatory section successfully garners reader buy-in from the outset: "While I cannot argue with a straight face that To Have and Have Not is a good book, I still enjoy the hell out of it" (xiii). What follows is 258 pages of impressively researched and even-handed explanation about the obvious shortcomings of Hemingway's novel that make a convincing recommendation impossible and about the absolutely intriguing elements of the final manuscript that make it difficult to wholly discount. Reading Hemingway's To Have and Have Not is not designed to "rehabilitate" the text's reputation (xiv), though Curnutt does make the case for the publication of either a "corrected" text (84) or at least a "restored" edition (l) that would reveal the state of the draft before Hemingway's last batch of hurried June 1937 edits. There were, after all, fish to be caught in Bimini, a new romance to be nurtured with a third Mrs. Hemingway, and a Spanish Civil War front to cover.
The fourth installment in the Kent State University Press Reading Hemingway series (following the annotated texts for The Sun Also Rises ([H.R. Stone-back, 2007], Men Without Women [Joseph M. Flora, 2008], and Across the River and Into the Trees [Mark Cirino, 2016]), Curnutt's book includes a dense but beautifully written introduction, an explanatory chapter covering the novel's front matter, a plot summary, and individual annotations for each of the twenty-six chapters, sixteen thoughtfully selected black and white photographs, and a series of fabulously thorough appendices. He masterfully treads the delicate line between offering too much and not enough detail, and even in the instances when the descriptions digress, the content is so engaging and the detours so absorbing that the audience is delighted to indulge. Though the text is designed to serve as a reference guide, Curnutt's decision to "[gloss] specific passages through a combination of biographical, historical, and thematic analysis" (xx) engenders the book with great value for those who wish to read it cover to cover. What separates this annotated guide from other comparable texts of the genre is that instead of establishing itself as an ending point—a text containing all of the answers—this work actually feels like the best kind of beginning. Researching scholars will recognize the Works Cited listing for the [End Page 153] gold mine that it is, and anyone—whether specialist or generalist—will finish...