Mental illness, addiction and suicide, especially suicide, course through the Hemingway family tree. Legendary author Ernest Hemingway shot himself in the head in 1961. Ernest’s father shot himself in the head in 1928. Of Ernest’s siblings, one brother died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and a sister killed herself with an overdose.
Ernest Hemingway had four wives. His first wife’s father committed suicide. From this first wife, Hemingway had a son, who was the father of Mariel Hemingway, the author of this memoir, “Out Came the Sun: Overcoming the Legacy of Mental Illness, Addiction and Suicide in My Family.”
Within Mariel’s immediate family, one sister — supermodel Margaux Hemingway — committed suicide by drug overdose.
Hemingway’s parents were unhappily married alcoholics. After they went to bed, leaving the blood and broken glass from their drinking and near-constant fighting, young Mariel would clean up, hoping to erase the signs of dysfunction and discord.
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Mariel, the most stable of the family, was nominated for an Academy Award for her turn in Woody Allen’s 1979 film “Manhattan.”
With these facts in mind, it may come as no surprise that Hemingway is a self-described control freak with a dash of obsessive-compulsive behavior. And that’s all right. What’s not all right is writing a memoir that leaves out the most headline-grabbing parts of one’s life.
The bombshell Hemingway left in the memoir is her relationship with Allen. In “Manhattan,” a 40-something character played by Allen dates a 17-year-old character played by Hemingway. Real life imitated art: Allen, then 44, took out Hemingway, aged 16, during filming, for talking and joking — dates, more or less.
He also pressured her to come with him to Paris without clarifying the sleeping arrangements. Hemingway excuses Allen: “I had agreed to take a part in his movie where I was playing more sophisticated and more adult, and if that was confusing for me, it was also probably confusing for him.”
She reserves her anger for her parents, who encouraged her to go with Allen. “I felt abandoned and angry,” she writes. In the end, it is she who tells Allen she won’t go.
Hemingway equivocates on another bombshell. In her 2013 documentary “Running From Crazy,” she claimed her father sexually abused her sisters. In this memoir she is more circumspect: “Over the years, I have sometimes wondered if there was anything going on behind closed doors that I didn’t know about, anything improperly intimate or even sexual,” she writes, then quickly backtracks, “I didn’t see anything untoward.”
Then she turns the blame onto her audience: “Why, when people hear about discomfort in a family, do they immediately imagine the most taboo acts?”
None of this is to say that the book lacks readability. It is strongest when describing Hemingway’s childhood. A companion book, “Invisible Girl,” spells out Hemingway’s childhood impressions and feelings even more vividly. The reader gets a strong sense of the chaos of the Hemingway family, the disappointments and neediness of its members, and the neglect from which the children suffered. Hemingway comes across as observant and likable.
The memoir falters as it moves into Hemingway’s years in Hollywood and her failed marriage. Here chapters follow a certain formula: an attention-grabbing line, followed by some rather inconsequential storytelling. She drops names in an attempt to cover up the lack of depth. Chris Sarandon was a dream to work with; Eric Roberts was a pill; and Bob Fosse chased her around a couch for sex.
At the end of both “Out Came the Sun” and “Invisible Girl,” Hemingway lists phone numbers to call for help with mental health, addiction, suicide and cancer.
The memoir is flawed, no question. Still, it’s interesting to hear even the carefully guarded observations of this, the most successful of the Hemingway descendants.
Laura Malt Schneiderman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Out Came the Sun: Overcoming the Legacy of Mental Illness, Addiction and Suicide in My Family,” by Mariel Hemingway with Ben Greenman (288 pages; Regan Arts; $26.95)