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Sunday, July 5, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Spotlight

A New-Generation Hemingway Connects, Too, With The Sea

Special To The Seattle Times

------------------------------- "Walk on Water: A Memoir" by Lorian Hemingway Simon & Schuster, $23 -------------------------------

It must be pretty hard to tell your own stories when your last name is Hemingway. If you are the granddaughter of Ernest and, like him, a lifelong fisher and writer, it must be even harder.

But Seattle author Lorian Hemingway tells terrific stories in her new memoir, "Walk on Water," stories about the fearless and curious child she was, about risks she has taken all her life from temperament and addiction, about the people she honors for their belief in her.

It also is a book about fishing as an avocation, an obsession and a means to personal redemption, and it is composed with honesty and wicked humor.

Long before she takes up her name's literary legacy, Lorian Hemingway tells us that "she was a young girl ready to trap the source of summer" in a ravine, "quiet, steady and aware" - qualities she attributed as a child to being the great-granddaughter of a Cherokee chief on her mother's side.

The young Lorian observed fish trapped in puddles of dry river beds, and she ate the red clay, black tar and acorns of her native Mississippi. At home, her mother and wife-beating stepfather drank themselves away, and Lorian early on saw fishing as a means of self-sufficiency: "It was a thing with me when I was a kid, to learn to live by my own hand, because who knew, exactly, when I'd have to leave in the middle of the night . . .?"

Hemingway tells you just enough about her parents (besides her abused mother, her absent father, Ernest's son, was a cross-dressing depressive) to see what she might have to run away from, but she doesn't indulge in analysis or bitterness. The lack of parental nourishment and active guidance in her life is shown by its very absence from these memories, and Hemingway leaves it at that.

However, she honors her mother's sister, Freda, and her great-uncle Les, Ernest's brother - both of whom she adored - by telling their stories. In one astonishing passage, Freda saves 8-year-old Lorian's life by shooting a cottonmouth with a bow and arrow as the snake undulates across a lake toward the oblivious Lorian, dog paddling and daydreaming nearby.

Hemingway recalls how as a young woman, she finally faced her famous grandfather's name and fishing legend. She read "The Old Man and the Sea" before her first marlin expedition, and she now understands her search for the perfect fishing buddy as her own need to anoint an idealized father figure. She remembers, too, melting when Uncle Les and other avuncular types called her "daughter" - her electric shock of gratitude revealing an emotional starvation she barely touches on.

"Walk on Water" dips into successive phases of Hemingway's life in a disciplined and tantalizing way. Her selective eye never rests on stuffy chronology or a resume of work and finances, and there is no full-blown finishing-off of her parents, either. Even hitting bottom and surviving a hellish alcohol detox are sparingly told.

Most important, Lorian Hemingway's eye for the ways of fish, oceans and rivers, for trees, weather and the great power of the natural world, reflect a humble sense of privilege for having had the chance to engage with it all. Her fish stories, too, are more than mere fish stories, as Hemingway uses them to reflect upon spirituality and the human sense of discovery.

"Walk on Water" reveals a distinctive voice, a gift for storytelling and the greater joy to be found in pursuing fish rather than catching them. Wingate Packard is a Seattle writer.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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