Performed at “Crazy & Sane” on May 27, 2019.
Dear Mr. Hemingway,
I am sorry, but we are going to pass on your book, “The Old Man and the Sea.” Although it contains some interesting passages, the story does not meet our standard for modern creative fiction on many levels.
Mr. Hemingway, may I make some careful observations.
First of all, the book is too short and nobody has published novellas since 1979. Could you flesh out the story to 300 pages? The modern reader might feel cheated with a short book. Quantity may not be married to quality, but they are kissing cousins. And so are book sales. We can’t charge 20 US dollars for a glorified short story. In simple terms, it’s a hard sale. Amazon has ruined the book business for us all.
Now, about the story itself. You have the old man hook a “marlin.” Marlins are an endangered species and your choice of fish would not work with the environmental activist crowd who are also big book readers. Could the old man catch a big Grouper or a giant tuna instead?
Also, you have him catch a 1500 pound fish with his bare hands and fight the fish for three days. Really? That is not physically possible; no one would believe an “old” man could fight for three days with a 1500 pound wild animal, sans rod or reel, using only his bare hands. It is beyond macho, don’t you think, Mr. Hemingway? You would need the old man wear a cape to accomplish that feat. Though, introducing superheroes in every story is considered passé in popular culture now, thank God, and you were wise enough not to have the old man drink something or get stung by a sea creature, thus making it “The Super Old Man and the Sea.”
By the way, the word “old” in the title and the reference to the “old man” is pejorative in this day and age. Young millennial folk now dominate the book-buying market. Perhaps you could update the story so that the not-so-old-man sails out with his GPS and then falls overboard in a titanic struggle with the fish. And then he’s surrounded by sharks. Perhaps the title could be changed to “The Ironically Ancient Millennial and the Sea?”
At the beginning of the book you have an interaction between the old man and a young boy. Sorry, but that is taboo for the modern reader—an old man and a young boy. Think about it. Creepy. You can’t mention “old man” “boy” and “bed” in the same paragraph, as you did. Thank God you didn’t have the old man with a young girl. That would have gotten your book banned by every library and the entire Christian world . . . who I might add are people who like books and fish.
By the way, Mr. Hemingway, did you know that fishing is the sport of philosophers? It is. Maybe you could have a fish out of water (no pun intended) story like a young fishing boy, who is also a computer hacker existentialist. The boy could find redemption in the catching of a really big fish, by hand, and during the course of the struggle a tattoo of a stigmata appears on his hands . . . or, what if . . . the old man was a refugee from Communist Cuba—make it Che Guevara—who survived the CIA assimilation in a Peruvian jungle in 1967, then makes a deal to be forgotten for the rest of his life, goes back to Cuba to become a fisherman, then becomes disillusioned at the Cuban revolution, after Castro dies of course, and sails out of Havana to renounce his past revolutionary ways. Then he accidently hooks a big fish, and somehow in the ordeal he is reenergized with Communist revolutionary zeal, returns to Cuba and starts another revolution. Or, on a more bitter note, you could have Che Guevara, the sad old revolutionary fisherman, sail out into the sea on a one-way voyage to death. A literary metaphor of the death of Communism?
I digress. Mr. Hemingway, there is no love interest in the story. Most of the readers in the world are now women. I am not saying you should have your old man find an old woman and then they have near pornographic sex in a small skiff in the moonlight. Nor am I saying it should be the “Old Woman and the Sea,” though that would be an interesting concept. And I’m NOT saying “The Old Lesbian Woman and the Sea” is good either. Too small a market.
Finally, the ending to the book is not satisfying. As I read it, an old man finds a giant fish, fights it for three days using his owns hands, then catches the big fish, then the sharks come in the night and the old man loses his big fish to the sharks who eat all the flesh off of it. He sails home with just the giant bones of a fish? Hardly an uplifting ending. In this brave new world, winners win and losers lose. This man is a loser. Having the good fight is not good enough today, Mr. Hemingway, unless you had the old man die at the end. Sort of like in the movie Moby Dick, with Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab, his body attached to the white whale—the obsessed becoming part of the obsession. Our old man could hang onto the giant Marlin in much the same way. Man and nature in a symbiotic relationship— a love/death embrace? Just a suggestion.
Good luck with your writing, Mr. Hemingway.