By -

Author: Russell Franklin
Publisher: Hachette

This story is a fictional account of the life of Ernest Hemmingway’s third son, born Gregory Hemmingway, who struggled with gender dysphoria, bipolar disorder, and alcoholism. The story is of a person straining deeply to understand themselves. From childhood through to struggles as a doctor and eventually the loss of medical license due to alcoholism, four divorces, and a constant internal conflict. There are feelings here of a person on the brink of breaking apart. 

And yet one doesn’t need to know any of that to enjoy this book. It is beautifully well done. It’s rare to find a fictional account of real life that moves with grace and passion and yet tells us something profound about the mind, perhaps even gives a glimpse — moments — of what it feels like to be human. Russell Franklin uses his talent to tell that fractured story with the empathy normally reserved for our family, creating a convincing work of fiction. 

However, I will admit that I was very sceptical about this book. Writing about a writer, even obliquely, is often very dangerous to a story. The hangover of a famous author’s writing, general cultural history, issues of fact and fiction — these all come up before one even opens the book. On the other hand, a work of fiction, a novel, about Gregory Hemingway, who ended her life as Gloria Hemmingway, could get swamped there alone, if not dealt with well. Never mind all the usual issues of how well a person can build people and places out of marks on a page, all while structuring a story.  

Not so here. With simple andclear language, the story takes place between Cuba, Montana, Florida and many other places, moving from the 1930s to the start of the 2000s, all with the convincing intimacy of someone who has experienced this. Russell Franklin has an unusual awareness of humanity which he manages to use in a fully formed way to make Gloria, Hemmingway a perfect idea for a story. He balances this unbelievably well with his characters, their lives, and what it means to write well – while pushing all external concerns away from us, and allowing us into a world that is complex and hard, joyous, and absolutely terrible.  

It is at times poetic, at others, tough and amazingly clear. The prose shifts like light. All while hauling an emotional weight much greater than what could ever appear on the surface. The story emerges in a way that is never obvious, and yet it accretes a depth of feeling that is stunning to be allowed to see. It produces an amazing story that stands solely in its own ground, a work of emotional insight into a complex life.