The best book I read on summer vacation probably was The Breaking Point: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and the Murder of José Robles, by Stephen Koch. I generally prefer less edifying fare for trips to Michigan, but I’d been meaning to read this one for a while and we weren’t too far from Hemingway country. So it seemed appropriate and I dove in.
Koch describes a great literary friendship and its rupture over the politics of the Spanish Civil War. Dos Passos, who would go on to become a contributor to National Review, comes off as a good and principled man. Hemingway was something else–a great character to write about, an even greater artist, but also a guy you wouldn’t leave alone in a room with your wife. Koch’s treatment is excellent. He is a perceptive critic and a good storyteller. I zipped through The Breaking Point as if it was the Michael Crichton book I nearly picked up in its place.
It turns out that Koch and I share an agent–a pleasing discovery I made in the acknowledgments to The Breaking Point. We’ve gone on to exchange a few emails. He hadn’t seen NR‘s list of great conservative novels, which includes one by Dos Passos.
I’m giving some thought to reading a lot of Dos Passos–i.e., to make a deliberate study of him. We’ll see about that. Koch’s book brought me a step closer to my own breaking point.
Here’s an image of Dos (on the far left) and Hem (on the far right).