My Old Man by Ernest Hemingway

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Week/story #32: Ernest Hemingway’s “My Old Man”

This was probably my least favorite of the Hemingway stories I have read thus far. The competition in that group is quite stiff, though, so that doesn’t mean this was a bad story. One thing about it that didn’t help was that the setting was that of horse racing, something I have never been able to get excited about. It always seemed to me to be a contest of “one rich guy’s expensive horse beating other rich guys’ expensive horses” – something I didn’t have a vested interest in.

***Spoiler Alert****

One of Hemingway’s earliest stories, it’s told by “Joe,” the twelve-year-old son of the title character, who is an aging jockey whose best years are behind him and who’s beginning to have to cut corners to remain competitive and to continue “earning.” The turning point, where the father “breaks bad” for good, is where he takes advantage of an unscrupulous tipster and a “fixed” race featuring the great horse, Kzar (a real – and legendary – European racehorse of the early 20th century).

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The father eventually puts together a big enough stake to buy his own racehorse and, riding it himself, participates in a steeplechase event that is the climax of the story. The horse is leading going into the home stretch, and, as young Joe watches, a terrible accident occurs. Within minutes, the boy loses the race, his father, their horse (shot after he has broken a leg), and his illusion of the father’s character (he overhears other jockeys speaking of how he “had it coming” after “all the stuff he had pulled”). One of his father’s associates tries to comfort Joe at the end of the story, telling him “Don’t listen to what those bums said, Joe. Your dad was one swell guy.” Joe is, I think, old enough to know better, though, and the story finishes with him thinking:

“Seems like when they get started they don’t leave a guy with nothing.”

I own this story as part of my volume, Ernest Hemingway The Short Stories. Other stories of his that I’ve posted about are: “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” “Hills like White Elephants,” “Soldier’s Home,” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” What are some of your favorite Hemingway stories?

I read this short story as part of my 2013 Short Story Reading Project,”Deal Me in.” Here is a link to my page describing the project. I’m curious – Would you consider participating if I made it a public “Reading Challenge” in 2014?

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