My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What intrigues readers and Hemingway fans so much about the manuscripts lost in Paris in 1922? Hemingway was so obsessed with that episode—his wife at the time, Hadley claims they were stolen—he wrote about it some 40 years later in his posthumously published memoir A Moveable Feast, and the story was recently retold in Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife.
Scholars, biographers and novelists have speculated about the what-could-have-beens if those manuscripts were somehow to surface. It’s a question that intrigues fictional Hemingway scholar John Baird so much that, at least in some universes of Joe Haldeman’s The Hemingway Hoax, he’s cajoled by con man Sylvester Castlemaine to forge those manuscripts, and get the forgeries published as the real thing, a scheme that may alter Earth’s history in several universes.
Once Baird takes on the task, he alerts the attention of the Spacio-Temporal Adjustment Board, a time-space policing agency with a license to kill. An agent of STAB jumps back through time-space to stop Baird by any means necessary.
One trip, one threat of death should be enough to stop Baird, but something happens to throw off the space-time continuum and Baird gets flung from one end of space- time to another, each time persisting in writing the forgery until the interdimensional hitman can convince him otherwise or kill every manifestation of Baird known to exist.
This was a fun read for me, as both a Hemingway and Haldeman fan. It’s always intriguing to think about what direction a writer might have taken if he published once-lost manuscripts or kept working on some manuscript that taxes him so much he gives up wriiting. Haldeman’s story puts forward the question of what effect, if any, does literature or art have on history. It’s a fast-paced witty novel with a twisted plot.
And watch out literary forgers—STAB may just be watching.