When I was 17 I ran with the bulls in Pamplona. That was the plan at least. The real story is that I got so drunk drinking Calimocho the night before that I threw up on myself and passed out in a field outside the bar where I self-poisoned. I did hear the rocket go off in the morning announcing the start of that day’s run, though.
A group of kids going off to college in a couple of months, traveled together by train all over Europe following a path very loosely based on the adventures of the various Lost Generation. We made our way by local train from San Sebastian to Pamplona and got caught up, like rodents in the belly of a snake, in the white-shirted crowd pushing into La Plaza de Toros after the day’s bullfights. I remember the sandy ground and the spots coagulated with blood, the festiveness of the crowd, the heat of air and body. Soon after that, drinking the local red wine and cola and dancing outside a bar into the night, I remember very little at all.
To run with bulls down narrow streets seems so baroque and ridiculous from my current vantage point, In 1982, though, I was not too far removed from the fables of Hemingway and his set that the adventure did not then resonate as a bridge from child- to manhood. Time moved so much slower then, pesetas chunked into a phone box to call home, that the festival of San Fermin would have taken on a mythos even without the American writer making it famous.
Hemingway did make it famous, as he made a style of writing and the conception of what it meant to be a writer iconic. Lesly M.M. Blume, in her eminently readable book Everybody Behaves Badly, does a laudable job of maintaining a critical distance from her subjects while at the same time thoroughly revealing the deeds and thoughts that led to her book’s title.
Hemingway was a writer on a mission, as consumed with stature and financial gain as he was with the writing itself. Hemingway very consciously broke away from his mentors, Stein and Anderson (as well as his contemporaries – Fitzgerald, Dos Passos), with respect to style to create one, instead, that showcased what Blume chronicles as the “iceberg theory” of writing. As she writes, Hemingway described this new style, “[If] the writer is writing truly enough, [the reader] will have a feeling ofthose [omitted] things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.”
While Blume does a good job of describing Hemingway’s early writing life in Paris, the history of the publications of Torrents of Spring and In Our Time, Everyone Behaves Badly is focused on telling the story of the creation of one of the era-defining books in American Literature: The Sun Also Rises. The book that Blume describes as “essentially introduc[ing] its mainstream readers to the twentieth century,” was in some ways the greatest bit of reportage in American letters.
Based upon the annual week-long bacchanal that was Hemingway and his retinue’s celebration of the festivities of San Fermin in Spain in July, The Sun Also Rises describes with nearly photographic accuracy, the alcohol and testosterone-fueled antics of a cabal of artists and hangers-on who are put to sea by the force of Hemingway’s persona, petty jealousy, and – ultimately – by his overweening need to conquer people and literature.
I’ve read the source material a number of times but did not know until I read Blume’s book how closely the “novel” hewed to real-life events. But to call The Sun only a lightly-fictionalized recounting of events during a week in Spain is to miss out on just how original Hemingway’s writerly voice became and how his technique imbued the material with a sense of life far richer and more true even than the very events described.
Hemingway was a boor, a terrible friend, a worse husband and father, and one of American literature’s greatest craftsmen. Lesley Blume’s book will please anyone who is a fan of Hemingway or of the Lost Generation; it is meticulously researched yet is never bogged down by its scholarship. It does a fine job of revealing many of Hemingway’s warts as well as his manifold gifts and never asks you to come down on either side.