One or more pictures stand out as the book’s primal raison d’etre; that is, there is at least one picture which activates a “flashbulb memory” from the creator’s childhood and which the story explains in an ambiguous way. The manifest storybook explanation for this primal scene is benign and reassuring while the latent and historical interpretation is traumatic and unbearable.
In four decades of family history on the ranch no immigrant had ever made contact. The effort to capture them, though, is omnipresent in the post-9/11 militarization of the borderlands. The number of vehicles on constant patrol in the Big Bend Sector has more than tripled. Helicopters circle, sometimes for entire days, scanning the hills, bearing down on migrants, driving them to the point of collapse.
There was one last buzz, then Greene pulled himself reluctantly up off the sofa. As I watched him cross the living room, the part of my mind still working in slow motion pictured the door opening, the gunmen entering and shooting Greene (professionals, with silencers), then noticing me and shooting me too, with some surprise but with no regret. I thought of the headlines the next day: STRANGE WOMAN MURDERED WITH FAMOUS AUTHOR IN RIVIERA APARTMENT.
Although there are hints of trouble in my grandmother’s book, I had never seen them. I was glad to own it, but I was overwhelmed by the tedium of her attempt to accent the rosy endurance of this immigrant family she had married into. My grandmother’s truth was the one that forgot or erased pain and remembered only joy.
Hemingway’s fame rests on his tragic romances of love and death; his evocative stories crafted in spare prose; his vivid war reporting and travel books. He was not a comic writer, and when he tried to be funny he could be heavy-handed, as in his parody The Torrents of Spring, or embarrassingly arch, as in the tedious conversations with the Old Lady in the otherwise fascinating Death in the Afternoon. Yet his most underrated quality was his lively sense of humor.