Islands in the Stream was assembled from Hemingway’s manuscripts by his widow and his publisher ten years after his death, and although the book has a certain unfinished quality, it contains most of the Hemingway ingredients. Like much of his fiction, Islands in the Stream is strongly autobiographical, but this last novel carries even more of the fears and fantasies of this major American writer.
The novel is divided into three separate books, held together mainly by the character of Thomas Hudson. Part 1, “Bimini,” is the longest and most successful of the three. Little happens: Hudson, a painter “respected both in Europe and in his own country,” works; his three sons from two earlier marriages (his third wife never appears) arrive for a summer vacation; they all swim and fish. The descriptions are often rich, the scenes humorous, and the focus is on feelings, particularly on Hudson’s largely unexpressed love for his sons: “He had been able to replace almost everything except the children with work and the steady working life he had built on the island.”
In the longest scene, Hudson’s middle son, David, battles a huge broadbill for hours, only to lose him at the last moment. (In several significant ways, the scene resembles the fight between Santiago and the giant marlin in The Old Man and the Sea, 1952.) In another scene, the boys play drunkards in a local waterfront bar, to the dismay of a group of American tourists. Yet one of the group turns out to be Audrey, an old friend of Hudson and of Roger Davis, and in the end Audrey and Davis leave the island together, and then so do the boys. The ending of book 1 is abrupt and shocking; Hudson gets a telegram: “Your sons David and Andrew killed with their mother in motor accident near Biarritz.”
(The entire section is 748 words.)