What a bizarre little novella! I was expecting a run-of-the-mill (short) Hemingway novel, and I got…birds living in shirts? The Torrents of Spring is so un-Hemingway-like that I stopped several times and just stared at the pages, thinking, What am I reading, exactly? Hemingway, young then, is making fun of the literary establishment in a parody of a rather forgotten novel by Sherwood Anderson called Dark Laughter, which I haven’t read. I spend a good chunk of The Torrents of Spring wondering if I was missing out on some grand inside joke, but by the end, I’m pretty sure it’s just a weird, funny book. Definitely not your run-of-the-mill Hemingway.
It’s about Scripps O’Neill and Yogi Johnson, two young men in rural Minnesota. Scripps is a writer, and Yogi is a World War I veteran, and they work together in a pump factory. Before Scripps gets that job, he lives in a small town and his first wife leaves him, so he wanders into a bean diner (?) in another small town, falls in love with an “elderly” waitress, gets a job at said pump factory, marries the waitress, and kind-of settles down for a while. Oh, and on his way down the railroad tracks, he picks up a bird and keeps it, taking it with him to the diner every day. Yep. Yogi has worked at the pump factory for a longer period of time and is distressed at how mundane his life has become, how he just can’t “want a woman.” He meets some Native Americans, ends up in some trouble, and escapes to the same bean diner at the same time Scripps is there with his elderly wife. For the most part, these men’s stories are parallel, but the diner is an important location, and things…kind of?… happen there, then everyone goes on with their lives…kind of.
Bizarre is definitely the best way to describe this one. At the beginning, I was confused, and I didn’t really like it, but it grew on me, and, in the end, I’m a fan. It’s so interesting to see Hemingway at his earliest, even though The Sun Also Rises (a much better novel) was published in the same year. I won’t recommend The Torrents of Spring to a Hemingway newbie, but if you’re a fan, pick this one up for a huge change of pace. It’s really well written, though strange, and it’s worth the hour or two it’ll take you to read it.
In addition: PUPPY!