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The bowling pins in the air:

“Don’t get wet” is the main message here. The wife doesn’t want the cat to get wet, then her husband says “don’t get wet”, then she thinks of how she is going to avoid getting wet (walking under the eaves), then she hears “you must not get wet”, which is even a stronger version of the original one.

I am influenced by my mother tongue here (Portuguese), when I think of an idiom which can be literally translated as “if you are in the rain you are going to get wet”. It is used to either warn people of the consequences of their actions or to tell them to embrace a risky situation because there is no way out. But even without considering this expression, this whole paragraph is very ominous. To me, she is about to get into something deep and complicated.

The other striking element is the repetition of liking the hotel-keeper. Also, “Liking him she opened the door and looked out” is such an odd way to describe an action, so it registers as something relevant. It probably has to do with other elements that indicate she is a bit spoiled, or at least that she is used to being treated with reverence: the husband offers to help immediately (even if he backs off), the hotel owner bows when she walks by and always wants to serve her, she apparently has a lot of complaints… She likes him because he treats her exactly as she expects she should be treated and watched over (or sheltered - a good word in the context of all the rain).

Another thing is the man in the rubber cape. Because everything is so empty, I thought that his presence seemed important. He is running to the café, a place that has already been mentioned before. Maybe he will intervene in some way?

Because the story is about a couple (two Americans in the hotel) and there is always a man showing up in the empty spaces (a waiter, a man in the rubber cape) I expect there to be some marital troubles, real or internal. I wonder if Hemingway is going to fulfil or play with this expectation.

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Hemingway can make even the word “the” work hard for the story. “The husband went on reading, lying propped up with the two pillows…” If he had just said “propped up with two pillows,” we might assume there are more than two on the bed. The “the” tells us there are exactly two, and the husband is using his own and his wife’s. Maybe she’d like to lie down too on this cozy rainy day, but he is using her pillow. Maybe she goes to the window in the first place because she does not feel welcome on the bed. (None of this in my humble opinion makes the husband a bad person, but it does maybe reveal something about him and about their relationship.)

Contrast this pillow-hogging with the hotel owner, who provides the woman with an umbrella. Rather than taking away an item of comfort (pillow) he is giving one (umbrella). And she really likes this, as Hemingway keeps telling us.

So the bowling pins, for me, are something like: giving and taking, comforting/sheltering vs. not comforting/sheltering, active vs. passive.

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I find myself thinking of other Hemingway stories about marriage—“Macomber” and “White Elephant”—and I wonder if this is the end of this American marriage. The rain. The comfortably lazy and complacent husband. The monument to war. The cars all gone. The lone waiter. An emptiness that turns this cat-rescue into something…heroic? Desperate? And it’s so very American, this hero mode, right? Hemingway uses that adjective, “American,” very conspicuously.

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Dec 22, 2021·edited Dec 22, 2021

Just one more thing:

There's that Chekhov quote about the gun that needs to go off. In this story, the "gun" is the A.W. getting wet. The husband says, "Don't get wet," and the maid says "You must not get wet."

The "don't" changes to "must" -- the narrative tension is rising.

So, I expect the A.W. to get drenched. But I don't know how.

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Dec 22, 2021Liked by George Saunders

If this were my wife and I, it would go like this:

“I’m going down and get that kitty,” the American wife said.

“I’ll do it,” her husband offered from the bed.

“That would be wonderful, honey!" the American wife said.

And then I would go and get the cat.

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My literary thoughts are forthcoming (I haven't even finished this selection) but...

My partner sat up in bed at 2:30 a.m and looked at her phone. She woke me up and told me that our flight home to visit family had been changed from a direct flight (4 hours) to an indirect flight with 3 stops (10 hours) leaving 6 hours later. She decided to try and find another flight immediately and got out of bed. In my grogginess I almost called to her from the bed, "Do you want help? I'll do it" but then the third paragraph of "Cat in the Rain" and George's commentary flashed through my head. "Don't be that guy", said my inner Hemingway, brusque, and inner Saunders, avuncular. Long story short, I got up; we dealt with the distinctive 21st century hell of automated chat "help" lines together; went back to bed at 4, and, just before we fell asleep again my partner thanked me for getting up and doing that with her.

I like to think I would have done that anyway, and I'm pretty skeptical of the "literature as self-help" industry, but at least in this case, Hemingway and Story Club helped me make a stressful situation less so and contributed to domestic harmony. Thanks, Story Club!

(I did consider laboring over that paragraph to more closely match Hemingway's style and incorporate greater detail and characterization, but now we're trying to re-book our return flight and I've gotta show up for that, too).

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My experience of this American wife is, naturally, infused with my own experience of being an American wife, being raised by an American wife, and being surrounded, for the last 15 years or so of adulthood, by many an American wife.

She sounds, to me, in her need to save the "kitty", to be bored and over-involved. There was a time in my life where I, too, would have needed to save the kitty, and thought of myself as super-mindful and kind in doing so. A codependence that I've mercifully started to disavow by now in my middle-age.

Also, "The wife liked him. She liked the deadly serious way he received any complaints. She liked the way he wanted to serve her." The American wife likes to be taken care of. At the risk of adding to the generally exasperated sentiment I saw in previous comments about how Americans are perceived abroad, this does so very little (for me) to add to the depth of the inner lives of American wives. I expect, fearfully, that we might find out more about her being vapid, and shallow, and bored. Such an American wife.

But George, as a brand new student of yours (ahem, excuse me, Professor Saunders), I've been reading as much as I can of your writing between Story Clubs. I just finished your Writing Education Timeline in the New Yorker (I'm 36 - I doubt I'll publish by 38 but I remain encouraged) and was so very, very (VERY) struck by your words: "Literature is a form of fondness-for-life. It is love for life in verbal form." And I have vowed, since this very morning, to rekindle some fondness-for-life through writing - my own, and at this moment, through Hemingway's.

And I wonder if I might find some fondness in Hemingway's writing for this American wife. In the very last line, it seems that the hotel-keeper might have some fondness for her, by sending the maid with the umbrella. He understands her compulsion to save the kitty with perhaps avuncular fondness. So, that is the bowling pin that's in the air for me, now. Does Hemingway write this character with fondness? Or is she a symbol of cloying American boredom? I await Hemingway's conclusion with bated breath.

Whoop and Hallo, to your central New York Christmas from mine in Southern California!

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Yes, I am thinking about:

…influences (conscious & unconscious)

…the privilege of being able to write, not the act of writing itself, but expecting/hoping to publish at 23 or even 26

…of course this story, the tension created with tactful simplicity

…But mostly I am thinking about “What a happy thing, that the time before us is still our own, to make amends in.”

Because:

…I am reminded of Tennessee Williams’ words in James Grissom’s Follies of God: Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog

“The world is violent and mercurial — it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love — love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.”

Every post so far has offered so much! But for me, within all the writing craft and reading wisdom, there appears a reminder for bringing kindness and love to ourselves and others; and therefore, to the stories we write, even when we may not like what or who we write about.

I am seeing all my unfinished stories anew and who woulda thunk it that there is a fire in forgiveness, in making amends with that which can’t be understood, and out of that fire stories are born.

Thank you so much for bringing some love to a burning world.

I am grateful. 🎄

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Dec 22, 2021Liked by George Saunders

Interesting that the husband is sitting reading at the foot of the bed, so his back is towards his wife as she looks out the window. He is closed off from the outside scene where she is open to life, looking through the window. Perhaps that first paragraph were her observations.

I don't see the "kitty" comment as babytalk, just shows someone who is very fond of animals, and perhaps babies, though she doesn't have babies of her own.

The hotel owner appears like a father figure. He must have taken an active part in that war commemorated by the war monument in the square. He is serious and capable, with many sad memories "his heavy face". He enjoys taking care of his guests. It must be wonderful to look after people after having all your ability to keep people safe, stripped away from you.

The AW can speak Italian which adds an interesting dimension - we don't know how much yet. And the hotel owner appreciates this gesture.

The AW is willing to venture out despite the heavy rain, plotting her way to get to the cat while staying semi-dry under the eaves. She is embarking on an adventure sparked by seeing the cat.

I'm not sure the maid is there to serve the AW as some others suggest, she may simply be bringing an umbrella to give to the AW, afterall she has a lot of responsibilities to fulfill inside the hotel.

I think AW will get wet, and will retire to the cafe to escape the rain.

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Notices:

1. "... the hotel owner stood and bowed ..." ==> Immediately following her husband's "fake-offer" response, she experiences a strong shot of respect. Instant contrast.

2. "She liked the hotel-keeper ... Liking him ... looked out." ==> In these few lines, she "liked" the hotel-keeper SEVEN times. Each one has its own nuance.

2.1. "She liked the hotel-keeper." --> Statement, clear and strong. There is no question about her feeling towards the respectful keeper. Hemingway is not doubting it, neither is she herself.

2.2. "THE WIFE liked him." --> By referring to her as "the wife", a moral dimension is somehow added to this dynamic. Is it right for a man's wife to "like" another man? H is deliberate here.

2.3. "She liked the deadly serious way he received any complaints." --> Oh, this is what she likes him about. A specific characteristic. The moral concern is diffused, to a degree. (But why this trait?)

2.4. "She liked the way he wanted to serve her." --> This is why. The gesture in him makes her feel respected and desired. It's all about herself after all.

2.5. "She liked the way he felt about being a hotel-keeper." --> It's about self-assurance. About identity. About knowing exactly who one wants to be. About what she may not have in her. She's lost, probably.

2.6. "She liked his old, heavy face and big hands." --> In the end, it's the physical stuff that anchors one's drifting mind. Personally I wouldn't think of this description as a demonstration of her carnal desire, as H specified he was "old and very tall." She must miss the concreteness onto which she could cling and FEEL. Again, this is something that's likely been missing in her life.

2.7. "Liking him..." --> Love this bit a lot. Liking him, a motion, suggests that all the last paragraph happened in an instant, a fleeting moment. Her next action, "opened the door", was carried out before she could finish all the thoughts listed above. A profusion of thoughts in a blink of an eye. Is it literature, or reality?

3. "A man in a rubber cape ... empty square ..." ==> Shows how heavy the rain is.

4. "'You must not get wet...'" ==> The husband's derivative just a few lines ago, "Don't get wet", now holds no weight at all under an opened umbrella. Two strangers showing genuine caring to her, who is going out to showing her caring to a cat, a chain of caring, inundates her (me) with delight and gratefulness.

How the story expands? ==> Her husband is introduced (as a villain); hotel-keeper is introduced (as the antithesis of the husband); her desire and struggle is revealed; she now is about to walk into the rain.

Bowling pins? ==> Will she get wet? How will she get to the cat? Will she succeed in retrieving the cat? Who is going to save her? (I'm getting ahead of myself, I know.)

Understanding of the woman? ==> With a few lines, we now know what the woman DOES NOT have, and so what she is looking for, at least to the extent of this story, in life -- care, respect, genuine love.

Next? ==> She could go out to save the kitty, bring it back to the room, have a debate with her husband as of how to deal with the kitty (negotiation). She could take the kitty away, leaving her husband in the room (awakening)....

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founding

The number of lines dedicated to the American wife's fondness for the hotel owner definitely stood out to me. Given the husband's insincere offering of assistance, I get the sense Hemingway is digging into what the wife feels is lacking from her relationship. She views the hotel owner as serious, attentive (deadly serious about complaints / wanted to serve her), a man of action (big hands). "Of course" he sent the maid with the umbrella.

What I love is that we've barely learned anything about the husband directly, but this passage tells us so much about him, all by suggesting what he isn't. (Or at least that's how I view it.)

I now view the cat-saving excursion as the wife's attempt to break free from a life trapped in stasis. The rainy day and empty square (contrasted with a typically lively scene) mirror the state of inaction unfolding in her hotel room (the husband in bed, wrapped up in a book). I would say the wife earns some sympathy from the reader. However, she also accepts help from the maid — who was ordered to assist and likely has no interest in the cat-saving adventure. The wife doesn't appear to consider this; she's coming from a position of privilege and (perhaps selfishly) embraces others' servitude.

What I'm most intrigued by is the repetition of the warning not to get wet. I anticipate a minor disaster is on the horizon.

That's my initial stream of consciousness. Really enjoying the line-by-line reading exercise!

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Let me say I hadn't read this story before, so all of this text is new. In the first paragraph, I can't help noticing the "two pillows." I've mentioned that idea of "two-ness" before, and it may really not be so important, but it's a pattern I tend to notice.

The hotel keeper and the husband are also two sides of what we might call (within this context) "male response to female in distress." The marriage is indeed out of the honeymoon stage and the husband is someone I've known before; he doesn't walk the talk though he may have honorable intentions. But the hotel keeper acts immediately to what he notices needs to be done. Woman walks into the rain, she needs protection, take her the umbrella.

Sorry if this sounds disjointed but my mind is racing right now. I did notice instantly how she referred to the cat. It's a kitty, which is childlike, evokes a sense of innocence. It's kind of maternal, too. Her action of wanting to rescue it is also maternal. So now I'm wondering, since another story is coming to mind that Hemingway wrote about a decision to have a woman have an abortion, whether some kind of child is going to be brought out. A kitty, too, could also be a shortened name for "kitten." Yes, it was described as a cat earlier, but could it be a kitten? If so, then it's a baby....and that might be setting us up for some talk about miscarriages, pregnancies, perhaps a dead child somewhere.

The other thing I notice is that that storm is picking up steam fast. It's raining all through this story so far, but now -- just as she commits herself to being a savior -- it's raining harder. Bad weather, and rain in particular, could be symbolic of the internal storm the woman may be experiencing, or it could symbolize some type of baptism (think savior/baptism).

I'm dying of curiosity to see what you all think!

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In my family, we call what the husband did a “head fake.” Beyond this crucial observation, I cannot go. I must stand off to the side and smile smugly. (My smug smile is not unlike my indigestion grimace.) Wait…there’s something I can add without spoiling anything. I never would have thought to mention the wife’s liking the hotel owner in a gerund-y (?) way, you know, the part where she continues liking the guy as she opens the door. That appeals to me. Happy holidays, George and classmates.

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I'm still feeling a little cautious about the story, not knowing where it's going. I assume the wife is going to get wet, but not necessarily that it's going to be a disaster. It's more about how she's being treated. The husband just idly says "Don't get wet," as if he's not really interested, and the hotel manager is more solicitous, because that's his job. She likes that, because she likes the feeling of security, of being cared for. Her husband is indifferent, the hotel manager is not, and she likes that better. But it's not as if she seems attracted to him -- he has an "old, heavy face" and "big hands." It's almost like she's admiring a piece of machinery. Not a sleek, modern machine, but a heavy, old-fashioned machine. But a machine that's there to serve, and does it well.

And he takes complaints deadly seriously -- which implies that there have been complaints, and she's made them.

She's bored, cooped up in the hotel with a husband who isn't paying attention to her. I don't think it's a failing that he doesn't go get the cat -- he offers, she says she'll do it (because she wants to do something, and this is something to do). But he's not really engaged with her, and the manager is; that's his function.

The description in the first paragraph seems to say this is a place where things that would be pleasant to watch go on in good weather, but they're not going on now. Instead, it talks about what's not happening, and that repetition of the waves breaking in a long line in the rain makes the scene feel monotonous, with its own metronome of inactivity.

Rescuing that cat (maybe she's been reading Blake Snyder?) is something to do, to break the monotony. Of course, nobody's asked the cat if it wants to be rescued.

The wife may just be an animal lover, but she's also projecting herself onto (or seeing herself in) the cat. She's trapped in a hotel room in the rain, the cat's trapped under a table in the rain. We don't know yet if the cat wants the escape from its circumstances that the wife wants from hers.

And the wife is leaving a place of comfort (first her room, then the hotel with its solicitous manager and staff) to go out into the rain -- a place of discomfort, as we've been reminded verbally three times, and had demonstrated in multiple examples.

So I don't know what'll happen when her situation turns from comfort to discomfort. She wants a change in circumstances, but she likes being cared for. So this may not be the change she wants. And the cat may not appreciate it either.

In a way, I feel sort of like I'm seeing Nick and Nora Charles -- the husband being the phlegmatic, capable male who is happy to be at rest when he doesn't have to be doing something, and the wife as a catalyst, because she wants to be doing something even though she doesn't have to. She wants to stir something up, even if it's just a mission of mercy for an animal that may not want it.

If so, then once she's in discomfort she'll want rescue herself, but at least it'll be activity rather than boredom. But maybe she's not Nora, and will react differently. But discomfort is coming, and we know she likes attentive response to complaints.

If I was reading it straight through, I wouldn't have thought about any of this yet, and might not have registered much of it -- but I'd still have the sense that she's restless and wants to get the cat more to be doing something than because the cat needs it.

I'm tempted to look the story up and finish it, because having thought about all this stuff so far, I'm engaged and want to know what comes next. But I won't, because that doesn't serve the point of the class.

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Dec 22, 2021Liked by George Saunders

I love the artistic spirit of camaraderie (and perhaps the artistic spirit of respect) comingling with the spirits of the past, present, and future. Thank you, George, and happy holidays to all.

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Wow, Hemingway really wants us to know the wife likes the hotel-keeper. If I was working on a story, I probably would cut either "She liked the hotel-keeper" or "The wife liked him." But this being Hemingway, obviously the repetition is intentional. I like the rhythm of the repetition that follows, "She liked the way, she liked the way" (do we call that anaphora?).

The thing I'm thinking about most given the previous discussions here is how this technique tells us more about the wife than the inn-keeper and more about her marriage given the husband's response to her going out in the rain, "Don't get wet" and doing nothing about it vs the hotel-keeper taking action by sending help. Another parallel/contrast.

I also heard the "kitty" in baby voice, so am feeling pretty validated at the moment, and I love cheating on job work to do this work instead.

Thank you, thank you. Happy hols to all.

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