Ernest Hemingway Is Cancelled
A book full of zeitgeist and humour about the fall of the white man
It’s difficult for some people in this day and age to do the right thing and not keep hurting others, even if that wasn’t their intention. Van Straten ventures into a minefield from which no one escapes unscathed. A powerful novel about masculinity, fatherhood and depression, but also about current hot-button issues such as #MeToo, gender, racism and social prejudice.
‘When Julio Iglesias and I walked home from the pharmacy on my fortieth birthday under a hopeful and therefore dishonest spring sun, I saw two men waiting outside my front door who would end up being indirectly responsible for my being sentenced to twelve years in prison, to be followed by a period of detention in a psychiatric hospital.’ The very first sentence of the book sets the tone: things will not end well for our nameless narrator, a photography curator in a modern-art museum who is struggling with an identity crisis and on antidepressants. His successful ex-wife continues to hound him, meddling in his difficult relationship with their teenage son and disapproving of everything he says and does.
He also gets into trouble at work, where his photography exhibition about Ernest Hemingway is shut down because the woke female museum director, who is one-eighth Indonesian, considers Hemingway to be the epitome of the morally reprehensible white macho. To make matters worse, a brief fling with an eighteen-year-old comes back to haunt him: when she accuses him of sexual intimidation, he ends up losing his job.
The protagonist grows more and more confused. But then a pragmatic roofer comes over with his son to fix a leak, and ends up taking him under his wing and trying to help him get his life back on track. The roofer looks after the whining Doberman – ‘Julio Iglesias’, from before – that the protagonist doesn’t know how to handle, is able to effortlessly communicate with his reticent teenage son, and takes both of them along to a medieval sword-fighting class that is supposed to promote resilience but ultimately smacks of fascism.
Caught between political correctness gone mad on the one hand and conspiracy theorists and right-wing extremists on the other, the protagonist careens toward his downfall, until he finally ends up in prison after being convicted of murdering – with his medieval wooden sword, no less – a hooligan who threatened him. But it is in this solitary, male-only environment that his journey toward redemption begins and he finds peace after becoming a Zen Buddhist.
Henk van Straten writes masterfully about self-destruction, fear and the sense of not fitting into today’s society, in which many subjects seem to have become taboo. The result is a story that is at turns grim, funny and moving.