Strangers on a Train: Ernest Hemingway vs. Charles de Lint

Heminway Bordertown (1)This one should have been more of a challenge.

For the Deal Me In Short Story Challenge I’ve been selecting two stories each round by drawing two cards from my deck and reading the stories assigned to each card.  Afterwards, I try to link the two somehow in my review.  It’s been fun. Sometimes it’s been impossible, but this time it was a cinch.

I selected the eight of clubs–“A Canary for One” by Ernest Hemingway and the ace of clubs–“A Tangle of Green Men” by Charles de Lint from the Welcome to Borderland collection.  So, try to match up Hemingway’s meaningful scenes from a marriage with a novelette about a how a man ends up in the strange borderlands between our world and the Faerie realm.

Turns out both stories center on meeting a stranger on a train.

In “A Canary for One” a married couple share a compartment with a woman who is going to visit her daughter.  The woman worries that no American can find happiness by marrying a European man like her daughter has done.  She talks about various things with the narrator’s wife.  Mentions how much she liked her canary. Then the train arrives and we learn that the couple is going to be setting up separate households.

To be honest, I rolled my eyes a little at this ending.  I was impressed by this sort of thing at one time, reading about an ordinary day in the life only to learn in the end that all was not as well as it seemed.  Writers of Hemingway’s generation did this a lot, and I often enjoy it, but the ending felt very gimmicky this time around.

Charles de Lint, who does not appear to have the more literary goals Hemingway did, tells a story about a young man who finds love of his life at a convention of people who dress up like faeries, loses her in a freak accident, then travels aimlessly on freight trains across America until he meets someone who can tell him how to enter Borderland.  I thought it was odd to put a story about how to get to Bordertown at the end of a collection of stories about life in Bordertown.

If you’re wondering, here is how you get to Bordertown:

Bordertown has always been a paradox. You can get there if you really need to be there—or you can’t.  You can stumble into it by chance–or you don’t….It could be right there just past our reflection. Or it isn’t.  The truth is, the city’s always followed its own rules, and they can change with a shift in the wind..

The old wisdom tells us that ancient power spots and sacred sites are gateways. I believe that the true openings lie inside us. In our own hearts, minds, and lives.

Perhaps all you need to do is set out on a journey in search of it, believing that when the journey ends you will be there.  Not perhaps. Not maybe. Leave no room for doubt. Go with the understanding that the path you take will bring you there.  And if it feels like you need a ritual, then make one up. But don’t make it easy.  Easy doesn’t earn you anything.

So Hemingway’s prose is better, Hemingway’s prose is brilliant.  You will not get me to cast aspersions on Hemingway though I did not like “A Canary for One.”  Maybe its the season, the summer, the time on my hands–but I preferred the stranger stranger on the train over Hemingway’s prose this time.

Charles de Lint wins this round.

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7 Comments

  1. Bellezza says:

    Isn’t it interesting how even a most beloved and brilliant writer, such as Hemingway, can still have a work which disappoints? That in itself is an interesting discovery. I like how you compare two seemingly unrelated things and find the commonality.

    Also, thank you for your observations on my unsuccessful font Chez Bellezza which is part of he blog template I bought and cannot change. However, I may need to go back to Blogger’s (boring) ones.

  2. It’s been fun trying to find a way to link stories that don’t appear to have anything in common. I wonder if you can change the font color when you’re writing a post, That may solve the problem. It’s too bad than customizing it is not part of the package you paid for.

  3. Dale says:

    I enoy a good Hemingway conversation like the one between “the American lady” and the couple on the train, but you have a point about the ending.

  4. When it’s good, Hemingway’s conversations are among the best there are. I think they’re okay in “Canary for One” but not among his best. The ending just struck me as adolescent this time around. I think this is a fairly early story, yes.

  5. Jay says:

    I still, embarrassingly, have a lot of unread Hemingway stories in my library, and this is one of them. I loved the “directions” to Bordertown by de Lint that you quote.

    Come to think of it, I’ve read two “train” stories this year myself – one was “Paris, France” by Vonnegut in his posthumously published “Sucker’s Portfolio” – not among his best, but probably the best story in that collection of never before published work. The other was a DMI story, the “Brussells South to Ottignies” story from the Brussells short stories collection I have. I love how when one reads enough stories, connections begin to appear…

    1. I like the Nick Adams stories myself. “Indian Camp” and “Big Two-Hearted River”. “Snows of Kilimanjaro” is excellent, too. If you never read “Hills like White Elephants” in high school, which I think is required by the Constitution, it really is very good. It takes place in a train station, by the way.

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