Dear Mr. Hemingway

Dear Mr. Hemingway

Old man and the sea


I am sorry but we are going to pass on your book, The Old Man and the Sea. Although the book has some interesting writing, the writing lacks, how we say in the book business, “heads nor tails.” Basically the story does not meet our standard for modern creative fiction on many levels.

Mr. Hemingway, may I make some careful observations about your book?

The book is too short and nobody has published novellas in a long time. Can you flesh out the story to 300 pages? The modern reader feels cheated with a short book. Quantity may not be married to quality, but they are kissing cousins. And so are books sales. We can’t charge 37 dollars for a glorified short story. In simple terms, it is a hard sale. Amazon has ruined the book business for us all.

You have the old man hook a Marlin.  Marlins are an endangered species and your choice of fish would not work with the environmental crowd who are also big book readers. Could the old man catch a big Grouper or a tuna fish? You have him catch a 1500 pound (today we use kilos not pounds, I might add) with his bare hands and fight the fish for three days. Really? That is not physically possible; no one would believe an “old” (your word) man could fight for three days with a 1500 pound wild beast, sans rod or reel, using only his bare hands. 

That aspect of your book is the closest side of impossible. It is beyond macho, don’t you think, Mr. Hemingway? You would need the old man to wear a cape to accomplish that feat. Though, introducing super heroes in every story is peaking in our popular culture, thank God, and you were wise enough not to have the old man drink something or be stung by a sea creature and turn into a comic book version of The Super Old man and the Sea.

The word “old” in the title and the reference to the “old man” is pejorative in this day and age. Most readers are young millennial folk who are now the dominate book buyers. Perhaps you could update the story so the not-so-old-man sails out with his GPS, it is lost overboard in the titanic struggle with the fish. No GPS and then he is surrounded by sharks. Perhaps change the title to: The 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” as you did in the same paragraph.  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 readers and people who 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) like a young fishing boy, who is also a computer hacker existentialist, who finds 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…well,  just a suggestion. 

Plus, if the fisherman drifts for three days out of Cuba he would be in US territorial waters and sure to be picked up by the US Coast Guard. Now if the old man was a refugee from Communist Cuba, make it Che Guevara, who survived the CIA assimilation in that Peruvian jungle in 1967, who then makes a deal to be forgotten the rest of his life, goes back to Cuba, to become a fisherman, becomes disillusioned at the Cuban revolution, after Castro dies of course, and sails out of Havana renouncing his past revolutionary ways.

Then he accidently hooks the 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, Che Guevara, the sad old revolutionary fisherman sails out into the sea on a one-way voyage to death—a literary metaphor of the death of Communism?

The introduction of the sharks was scary and scares off (again) the environmental crowd as well as fish lovers everywhere. Sharks are fish, too.

There is no love interest in the story. Most of the readers in the world are now women. I am not saying you change your story where the old man finds an old woman and 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 and the Sea would work much better as a book.

Finally, the ending to the book is not satisfying. As I read it, the old man hooks a giant fish, fights for three days, using his own hands, catches the big fish, the sharks come in the night and old man loses his big fish to the sharks who eat all the flesh off the big fish. He sails home with just the giant bones of the fish.

Hardly an uplifting ending and not for the modern reader who expects a positive end.  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 the movie Moby Dick, Gregory Peck as “Captain Ahab,” his body attached to the white whale—the obsessed becomes part of the obsession. Our old man hanging on to the giant Marlin in much the same way. Man and nature in a symbiotic relationship:  a love/death embrace?

Good luck in the future, Mr. Hemingway.

All the best,

The Editors  (AKA Michael MacLaughlin)


Ojo Del Lago
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