One of this biography's achievements is to deepen our understanding of Hemingway's fraught relationship with his mother ... Dearborn captures Hemingway in all of his extremes, the story of a hugely flawed and endlessly compelling human being producing enduring art.
...It’s always worthwhile to explore (on ever accumulating evidence) what makes a genius tick, even if tabulating his flaws can get to be a slog in Hemingway’s case. Ms. Dearborn does not shrink from the task. Once again we see how Hemingway built his career on the bodies of betrayed friends ... Ms. Dearborn’s book is not especially disparaging relative to other biographies—to her credit, she seems content to marshal the evidence pro and con, and there is a superabundance of both ... What makes this book seem a little relentless, at times, is its insistent focus on the flawed human being rather than his achievement.
The result is a work in which 'the Hemingway legend' — a phenomenon in which Dearborn has 'no investment' — emerges more or less intact. Only here it is presented with an array of qualifications that cast Hemingway as a more troubled, complex and tragic figure than most previous biographies have allowed ... Dearborn explores these corners of his sensibility more fully than previous biographers, and she does so with subtlety and insight — qualities that are also present in her discussions of Hemingway’s work ... But Dearborn is not always convincing when writing admiringly. Her claim that Hemingway was uniquely adept at transforming life into literature is unverifiable, and vulnerable to the example of countless other writers ... On the whole, though, this is an admirable, affecting and thoughtful biography, distinguished by a scrupulousness and good sense that animates its subject with vigor.