The Killers by Ernest Hemingway, 1927
The magic trick:
Turning a would-be pulp action story into a thoughtful, coming-of-age piece
The story opens as a high-suspense, mob-hit drama. Halfway through, it becomes clear that, in spite of the title, “The Killers” is not about the hitmen; it’s about Nick Adams. The character features in several Hemingway stories. In this one, he has a coming-of-age moment as he tries to understand, first, that someone wants to kill an old boxer who lives in town, and, then even more perplexingly, that the boxer has no energy left to avoid the hit. Hemingway plays on the same themes as in his early gem, “My Old Man;” though if you’re asking me, “The Killers” is the lesser of the two.
That said, this is a great story. It pairs the visceral pleasures of a pulp thriller with the artistic touch that we shall call, lacking a better word, literary. And that’s quite a trick on Hemingway’s part.
“Couldn’t you get out of town?”
“No,” Ole Andreson said. “I’m through with all that running around.”
He looked at the wall.
“There ain’t anything to do now.”
“Couldn’t you fix it up some way?”
“No. I got in wrong.” He talked in the same flat voice. There ain’t anything to do.”