Every city has at least one landmark. Oakland has quite a few, one being Lake Merritt. I walked partway around it today with a dear writer friend and thought how lovely was the day with its cool breezes and high sun in clear skies. Being such a relaxing day, and my only day off this week, I was in the mood for the late-afternoon happy hour at the chalet across the lake. As we walked, I thought of writers such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and their stories of decadent living. Not that my life is decadent by any means, but given the level of poverty in Oakland and around the lake, having the option to treat my friend to brunch at a trendy bar and grill makes me feel pretty well-to-do. Actually, so does having a day of leisure.
To be fair, not all characters in Hemingway’s and Fitgerald’s books are rich. There are often those without money in wealthy circles. When a co-worker saw me reading The Sun Also Rises, he asked what it was about, to which I replied “rich people traveling and living it up,” to which he asked, “What, like the Great Gatsby?” to which I replied it was—not in the sense of plot, but rather, the upper crust living life at their leisure, usually above the means of the average U.S. citizen. At that point, I was only halfway through the book and not sure my assessment was accurate. There was, I felt, more to the novel than the narrator’s travels between Paris and Spain and his interactions with friends and an ex-lover. After having finished the book I can say the happenings are not much more than that, but below the surface plot is the human story of acceptance and rejection, of caring for someone who makes themselves emotionally untouchable, all which puts the banality of the character’s days and nights in context. Also, Hemingway’s signature writing style of simple words and mostly short sentences invokes a poetic atmosphere that makes the mundane details of human life a treat to read. In The Sun Also Rises, the style casts a nonchalance over the work in the sense the only problems the characters have is in relation to one another; even characters without much money seem inconvenienced by their situations instead of plagued.
Since my work weeks have topped fifty-plus hours, I haven’t spent much time writing the novel. Thinking and note taking, yes, but no writing. Another dear friend of mine said maybe the book is meant to be my life’s work, which I’m starting to believe, seeing that it’s taking a lifetime to write.