The Hemingway Hoax
Reviewed date: 2005 Feb 23
Awards: 1991 Hugo best novella, 1990 Nebula best novella, 1991 "Futuro Remoto" best novel
Professor John Baird attempts to pull off the greatest hoax in literature: forge a "lost" Hemingway manuscript. Baird is the world's leading experts on Hemingway, is a writer himself, and possesses an eidetic memory that makes him ideally suited to perpetrate this fraud. And with his personal fortune dwindling away, his Hemingway "discovery" could be the ticket back to a comfortable life.
But Baird's undertaking has far greater consequences for the universe than he can imagine. Someone--or something--from the future (or from outside time itself) does not want him to succeed. Baird must manufacture his fake manuscript while dodging assassination attempts from the keepers of the timeline.
The Hemingway Hoax starts off well and gets better quickly. Haldeman writes a nice story, interspersing Professor Baird's research on Hemingway with bizarre episodes of his narrow escapes from assassination, and with Baird's ethical dilemma about whether he should pass the forgery off as the real thing.
Too bad the ending is such a downer. Instead of wrapping it up nicely, Haldeman opts for the avant garde ending: nothing is explained and no plot elements are dealt with; instead, it turns into a stream-of-consciousness a la early Hemingway. It is among the most disappointing endings I have ever witnessed in a novel.
I have one more complaint: parts of the novel are typeset as if written on a 1921 Corona typewriter. Yes, that is significant because that's the model Hemingway used. But it's too hard to read. The text is muddled and smeared. Maybe that makes The Hemingway Hoax an authentic work of artistic literature, but it also makes it unnaturally hard to read. If the typewriter font were integral to the story somehow, it would be forgivable, but it is not.
Parts of The Hemingway Hoax are excellent. But the flaws are too great.