For someone whose fiction was so rooted in geography and linear movement, there is a kind of fitting, awful precision about the way Ernest Hemingway destroyed himself in the Sunday morning quiet of Ketchum, Idaho, 26 years ago this summer. This is what happened.

He rose about 7 o'clock. He slipped a red bathrobe over blue pajamas, put on slippers, moved past the room where his wife was sleeping, went down to the kitchen, retrieved the key that Mary had left on the window ledge above the sink, opened the door to the basement, looked into its darkness, descended, unlocked the storeroom where the guns were, chose the one he wanted (it was a shotgun and he had got it at Abercrombie & Fitch years before), took several shells from an ammo box, closed and rebolted the door, came back upstairs, crossed the living room to the oak-paneled foyer, shoved in two cartridges, dropped the butt of the gun to the linoleum tile, leaned over the barrels -- in the way you might take a drink from a water bubbler -- set his temple against the blue steel and then tripped both triggers.

He aimed for just above the eyebrows and nothing went awry. What Mary Hemingway saw of her husband's head when she came running down the stairs were masses of bone, teeth, hair, flesh and a nearly impossible amount of blood spread around the walls, ceiling and floor of that tight entryway.

It was July 2, 1961. Sick and depressed and empty of his dreams, his interior landscape a paranoid's nightmare, the most imitated writer of the 20th century had killed himself in a place where the mountains are as jagged as the teeth of a shredding saw. He was 19 days shy of his 62nd birthday. He had three sons, and for each it was an explosion that still detonates.

PART 2: ISLAND PARK, IDAHO The 'Mouse'

"He was affectionate and he had a sense of justice and was good company," Thomas Hudson says of his middle son David in one of Hemingway's last published novels, "Islands in the Stream." David is Patrick Hemingway.

The real middle son is 59 years old now -- a short, astute, generous, immensely likable, affectionate, droll, learned, loose-jointed, round-bellied figure of a man who has olive eyes and dark scratchy brows and a dead-on, moonish, light-up-the-room Hemingway kind of face. You'd know him practically anywhere. He also owns a raucous Hemingway laugh, and he will stick it in at the oddest times. He talks very loudly, too, in a high voice and in places -- such as crowded restaurants -- where people can easily overhear the word "Hemingway" being tossed around. Is it all a cover for what he is really feeling: If you can't hide from it, wear it, wear it like hell? Well, maybe. And maybe things are exactly what they seem today, on the edge of a gorgeous river just crawling with trout and insect hatches.

He has on fire-engine-red L.L. Bean suspenders and an Orvis fishing shirt and a big outdoorsy watch that has slipped around on his wrist.

He has wonderful weathered hands that continually move, glide the table, like beavers working a pond.

He has a limp handshake.

He has one adopted daughter.

"I went to college, I graduated, I went to work, oh, maybe a little bit later than grim necessity," he says, laughing.

"I was raised like a young Crow child," he says, with little wisps of nostalgia.

"You could say I have an extreme prejudice against American celebrity worship," he says, with a near-malevolence in his voice.

Later: "The desire to get to the man behind the work can be sometimes overwhelming. I always go back to the letters."

And still later: "I do find myself terribly angry and annoyed and wanting to hurt these professors and critics who wish constantly to pick over the life. Well, in a way my father deserves it, doesn't he?"

This is the Hemingway son who studied art history at Harvard. This is the Hemingway son who went to Africa and spent 26 years hunting the cape buffalo and the leopard and of course the lion. For a long while he taught wildlife management in a Tanzanian college under the auspices of the United Nations. He came back to America in the mid-'70s and now lives in Bozeman, Mont., where he fills his time with reading and bird-shooting and bicycle-riding and paperwork regarding Hemingway trusts and other family legal affairs. But there is always time for fishing. This evening he will fish Henry's Fork of the Snake River, a stream Papa never got to.

This is the Hemingway son who, like his younger brother Gregory, had shock treatments -- three times a week for six weeks.

He has lovely table manners -- and uses huge amounts of salt and pepper.

He seems to have read every book written in English during the last 200 years.

He is terrific company.

There are moments when he appears almost fey.

And looks deceive, and riddles come wrapped in riddles.

"Killing," he says in a very warm voice. "Now that's something I know quite a lot about, actually. Killing. Big game hunting is very good training for war. I've never had any experiences in war. But I feel if I lived in a country that didn't have hunting, I'd be drawn irresistibly to be involved in a war. War is about organization and terrain and supply. So is hunting. I've shot many wild animals, and you wouldn't believe how many people have said to me in my life, 'But, Pat, you don't seem like the killing type.' Oh, no? Let me tell you a little story. I've seen packs of wild dogs in Africa literally killing an animal by biting it to death on the run. The animal is trying to escape and the dogs are taking out whole chunks of him, as they go. This seems truly horrible, being eaten alive while you're trying to get away. And yet these same canine fellows can be quite wonderful to each other in a different context. They can nurse each other, they can make their camp while one of their number is recuperating. Now would you ever think that your little Fido eating his Alpo there on your kitchen floor -- would you ever think he's capable of doing something like this? But he's descended directly from these boys, isn't he?"

Pause. "Well, I am descended directly from Ernest Hemingway."

"You see," Patrick Hemingway is saying in a booth in a restaurant in eastern Idaho, "what you've got to remember in this whole messy business of fathers and sons has first of all to do with the fact that the father is always worrying about whether his sons are worthy of him. Human beings don't like believing in false gods. A father wants his sons to turn out and that's that. He's incalculably hurt when it doesn't happen. But consider the other side. There's this terrible resentment on the child's part that he has to compete with his father at all. And, listen, the father doesn't especially like it this way, you know. But that thing is eating at him all the time -- 'Is he worthy of me?' So, you see, it's all just wrecked from the start."

Launching into a story: "What the biographers somehow want to miss is how well-intentioned he could be. We used to spend summers at Sun Valley, right outside Ketchum, as you know. I could take the .22 Woodsman's pistol with me on one of my horseback rides. I remember that one of my early greatest accomplishments -- maybe I was 10 or 12 -- was shooting a prairie dog with that .22. I came back and nobody really believed me. My older brother Jack laughed. 'Sure, Pat, you got a squirrel.' My father heard that and said, 'If you say you did, Mouse, then let's go look for it.' We were out there for hours. What I'm trying to say is, he really understood what a child needed most at a particular moment."

Here is another story: Driving in the Florida Keys once, Hemingway saw smoke rising from a wooden cross-bridge. He stopped the car, got out. Somebody had jammed a cigarette between the planks and the fire was just beginning to catch.

"Oh, Mouse," the father said in a kind of trilling, seriocomic voice, "hurry, we must put out the blaze." Telling this, remembering it, the gregarious, good-natured middle son now leans across the table, something evil and hilarious in his very red face. "So how do you put out such a fire? Well, you pee on it, of course. Father and son, peeing together to save a wooden bridge in the Florida Keys. What a service to mankind. Ha. I think he managed an almost horselike discharge. I didn't do much. What I'm trying to tell you is, you get someone like this, teaching you, having fun with you, just being with you, it's, well, it's sort of magical. He gave my childhood a magical quality, and that's what I want you to know most of all."

In 1947, when Patrick was 19, he and Gregory were in a car accident in Key West. Patrick hit his head but seemed to recover quickly and so went on over to Cuba to visit his father, where he lapsed into a paranoid delirium during which -- as Hemingway later related in a letter -- he kept "defying Satan and all fiends and all local devils," one of the largest local fiends being Ernest Hemingway. The vigilant fiend of a father abandoned his writing and slept in the hall outside his son's room, nursing and feeding him for the next three months. It was in this period that Patrick received shock treatments -- from a German communist physician in Havana.

Fathers and sons. "There's no real running away, no permanent escape from who you are," Patrick Hemingway told a writer for The Boston Globe several years ago. "I am a happy man. I look ahead. I don't blame anyone for my misfortunes. When something is wrong, I try to right it. The thing is this: You've got to recognize your limitations . . . The writer suffers great pressure. You have to have sensitive apparatus, so sensitive that you sense and respond to the most subtle things."

Is the implication here: No thank you? The son now amplifies: "Because a writer has to betray everyone, doesn't he? He can't fudge the drawings. If a guy is fat, well, what do you do? You have to put it in. You separate yourself. You've probably heard that famous Hemingway line, the time he said that 'I am so fond of wing shooting that if my mother went in coveys and had a good strong flight and came directly into my sights ... ' " He doesn't finish, just roars. "And, of course, he had to use his mother as the example, didn't he?"

(Papa's real trouble in life, the new scholarship is saying, and pretty convincingly, was Mama, Mrs. Grace Hemingway of Oak Park, Ill. As The New York Review of Books has headlined a piece on Hemingway in the current issue: "Pressure Under Grace.")

Gregory's name comes into the talk. Patrick squints. "The devils in him. There is something molten in him, demons roasting in fiery pits. Gigi and I are full brothers, as you know, but actually I'm closer to my half-brother, Jack. I'm afraid Gig is taking his father's route."

An awkward silence.

Then upbeat again: "Generations tend to alter. My father was a very public figure. Now that my life is in its last two decades I might be regretting that I didn't try to know more about power. For instance, I've never had a desire to write. Now I have some reservations that I didn't try. But of course I have just tried. My wife and I have written a play."

He is practically crowing it. "Carol and I have written a play!"

"Yes, we have," she says. She is a former college drama teacher from New York City and has been content to listen all this while. They have been married for five years.

A script for a movie?

"It's a play," he says. "I'm not interested in scripts, okay, pal? I'm not interested in scripts or Hollywood or any of the American way of celebrity. Yes, that's what my father wanted in some sense. The reason I wanted to change my name as a young man is not because I didn't know or respect my father, but because I had dislike for celebrity. My mother talked me out of it."

This seems over -- but no. He is crumpling a napkin. "Look, that's one reason I'm so mad at my father. Because you can never really know what was real, what was the truth, and what was just bull. Now Carol has all sorts of reasons to write a play. But you could say I have only one reason -- because it's the one kind of writing my father never did well. Now I can categorically tell you, my play is better than my father's. It's called 'Mama Jini's Lion.' It takes place on safari in East Africa. You could say there's a Hemingwaylike character in it."

They haven't yet been able to interest a production company in it, though there have been nibbles.

"My real motive was to top Jack. I wrote it in some ways as an answer to Jack. Jack has lately written a book, as you know. Look, Gigi wrote a book. Hell, I'd be insane to think I'd have any real chance of besting my father at writing. But, you see, I might be able to best Jack."

Mention of Jack brings up Sun Valley, where the hills go yellow in the fall and the air is warm and the grass dries off to a kind of weatherboard brown. Go there much, Patrick?

He comes close. The eyes are almost livid. "It's the place of dishonor. I have utter contempt for it. I despise it. I think it's an absolute hole. I mean, if I were a red Indian I would probably be enraged at you, want to take your life, for even bringing it up."

And then: "Is it easy to be in a place where your father shot himself?"

But it quickly cools. (Is this all performance?) "I remember once telling an interviewer that Hemingway killing himself at Sun Valley was about as important in terms of geography as imagining Thomas Mann dropping dead in O'Hare Airport in Chicago. My father had no real connection to Ketchum and Sun Valley. Averell Harriman invited him out there, you know, when he was head of the Union Pacific and trying to build up the place as a glamorous resort. My father's real country was Wyoming and Montana. He moved further west after the marriage to Pauline {Pfeiffer, Patrick's mother} ended. He was too wrecked by the memories. So Ketchum doesn't mean much, except that he blew his brains out there."

A little later he says he was more or less just putting you on, that bit about Sun Valley and how much he hates it.

What was his father like in a room? "Some have said like a great silver-backed gorilla. Gorillas achieve their status as they get older with their backs turning white. Just look at the pictures of Papa's beard. It's true the physical presence was something."

Doubling back, to the silver-backed gorilla's oldest boy: "You'll enjoy Jack a lot. Jack is very easygoing. Jack likes to fish. Jack is the easiest of us. Boy, has Jack caught some fish in his life. Ten thousand? Twenty thousand? At the old pearly gates, St. Peter is going to say" -- the voice is suddenly low and delicious, the head bent over practically to the tabletop -- " 'Okay, Jack, baby, the hook's in your mouth now. Whaddaya say?' "

And back to his father's suicide: "The way it happened. Terrible. I don't think any civilized adult sensitive man, all of which my father was, could have done it that way unless he had some terrible problem, or the illusion that he had that problem, with his wife. Did he hate Mary -- or feel he did right then? I don't know. But I think he knew what he was doing right up to the day he died. That he was also off his rocker there is no question. But no one, in my opinion, had any alternative but to do what he did, given what had happened to his mental state. Of course, not in that fashion."

Suddenly: "People don't know how much blood there is when you shoot yourself in the head. All the blood's in the head anyway, you know. You don't want to do it on the Persian rug, do you?"

He is laughing. But then he isn't laughing. "I'll tell you the real criminal neglect. Why wasn't she indicted? Who do you think left the key out? Mary left it out. Why hasn't that ever been looked at?"

In the evening Patrick Hemingway, the just and gentle, demonstrates superb angling skill, in a moonrise, with the Centennial Mountains rising on one side of him and the Tetons on the far other. Lodgepole pines stand up on the near bank like 60-foot stalks of corn. He has a two-ounce flyrod in his hand and it fairly trembles to the rhythms of his heartbeat. He is using an elk-hair caddis dry fly, and the water seems to lie around him like glass. He works the rod like a wand, sending the line in great loops far out on the water. "I love fishing after dusk," he says in the softest voice. "It's called fishing off the mirror."

Trout are taken, and all are returned to the water.

Driving back, an hour later, in the pitch, hunched over the steering wheel of his white Ford Bronco, the middle son says: "Children are very judgmental about their parents. I think when we were young, he was a very good father to us. But then I think we sort of lost him. It was because, oh, I don't really know why. It's too complicated. But I do think writing was the most important thing in his life. He put everything he had into it. I'm just tremendously impressed he could be dedicated to this ... mission he had to write, and in addition work pretty hard to give a lot of himself to us as well."

PART 3: KETCHUM, IDAHO 'Bumby'

Gertrude Stein was his godmother. He remembers his father playing tennis with Ezra Pound on Paris clay courts. Sometimes he finds himself thinking of the fishermen working the banks of the Seine. They lived, then, the small blond child and his so-in-love parents, Hadley and Ernest, in the bare hard rooms over the sawmill in the Rue Notre Dame des Champs. His father was sitting at marble tables writing stories with stubby pencils, thinking up poetic titles: "Big Two-Hearted River," "Cat in the Rain," "Up in Michigan."

After a lifetime of fishing, his nights still fill with dreams of fat pulpy rainbows, big as hogs, silver as salmon.

John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway is 63 now and far from Paris, and two of his own children are much more famous than he is. (Their names are Mariel and Margaux.) This is the Hemingway son who is wedged between the myths of literature and the myths of Hollywood. This is the Hemingway son who has spent most of his life trying to get over his nearly pathological shyness. (What must it have felt like posing in his ski togs on the slopes of Sun Valley alongside Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable?) He has never really had a career, he has never really been able to support his family by his own paycheck.

A few years ago he told an interviewer: "I spent the first 50 years of my life being the son of a famous father and am now spending the last 50 as the father of famous children." It was funny at the time. But when the guy you buy trout flies from starts quoting it back to you ...

His mustache is coarse and straw-yellow, like the bristles of an old shaving brush. There are curls of white hair on the backs of his brown hands. There are two dog whistles hanging around his neck -- for his Brittany spaniel, Partridge. (Master and canine go everywhere together.) He has on an old golf hat and white socks and a crew-neck sweater and he looks exactly like you'd want your father to look in advancing age. He drinks herbal tea. There is something tentative about him. When the pressure gets too great, he just slips off into the woods, or onto the river, or down the road. The phone messages pile up for days. "Haven't seen him," his wife Puck tells the outside world.

Today he is sitting in a restaurant in downtown Ketchum. Downtown Ketchum is about three blocks long, and everybody seems to know him. A second ago he was talking of Mariel, and how he once drove all her things across the country in his car. She was moving to New York and hadn't yet hit it big as an actress.

That was a pretty generous thing to do, you say.

"Well, a man who doesn't have a job can afford to be generous like that," he says.

A man walks up to the table. "Hey, Jack, doing an interview?" he says loudly.

Jack nods, quickly changes the subject. "Hey, Mariel's coming out next week with her husband. They're going to be here until the baby comes. I'm going to be a grandfather, at last."

The man wanders off and Jack says, "What you try to do is deflect them."

The oldest son has something of the grace of the banged-up athlete in him. (The inside of his left foot turns down as he walks.) But the truth is, Papa's boy is just now learning to throw a ball, at least throw it properly. He used to throw like a girl. "I've finally got it down," he laughs. "A tennis friend and I broke it down. It's the hip coming through ahead of the shoulder." And then, "I was raised like a little soft French kid, if you want to know."

Listen to talk of Papa:

"I was always drawn by his warmth. When he was with you, he was totally yours. Of course Papa might tell you to wait in the car for five minutes while he talked to just this one person and he'd be right back. He might be gone an hour and a half. He was a very hard person to get out of places, actually."

And: "He was the kind of man who, if you were standing in close with him, might try to shadow-box you, give you these little punches in the clinches. I was very uncomfortable with that kind of physical closeness. He was dominant, not domineering. By that I mean he wasn't a tyrant. He was strict. I certainly felt the strength, the power, and I was afraid to tangle with it. But it wasn't used as a threat, not exactly."

And: "I hurt him one time, you know. I cut his eye. He came back at me, saw my guard up, he hit me, but he held it back, too, he could have knocked me out, I guess I was only 15 or 16. He loved boxing. It was one of his self-indulgences that he somehow thought he was a great fighter, even though he was a lot better than the revisionists would have it. I used to spar with some of Papa's boxing blacks in Key West."

When he was 33, Jack went to see his father in Cuba. He broke down in front of him. He said he would never amount to anything, he couldn't stick to a job. All he could seem to do well in his life was fish. He was living in Portland, Ore., then, trying to make it at an investment firm. Papa had just recently gotten the Nobel Prize.

"Look, Bum, you're in a good place, a place you chose. You'll just have to stick with it. I'll help all I can with monies but you're going to have to stay with one job in one business until you learn to make a living."

"I'd give anything not to need money help but God knows I do need it," Jack said, nearly blubbering.

"Schatz, listen to me. I know how bad it can seem. There have been times when I felt the same way. Christ, if you had any idea of the {expletive} I live with all the time." Then he said, "The one thing you must promise me you will never do, and I will promise you the same, is that neither one of us will ever shoot himself, like grandfather. Promise me and then I'll promise you."

So Jack promised. And then Papa promised.

You can find this story in "Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman," Jack Hemingway's good-spirited account of his life with and without his father, reissued earlier this summer in paperback. (The hardcover came out about a year ago.) There are a lot of fishing stories in the book. It isn't literature, it doesn't try to compete with anyone, least of all Papa. It's only a book like the man.

"I think he saw me as a kind of, well, blah," he says, "a nice kid, smart enough, but, let's face it, never going to be a world beater. I think in Patrick he saw the tremendous intellectual potential. I think he recognized in Gregory so much more of himself, the capacity for good and evil."

More talk:

"I agree it's entirely possible for someone to see Ernest Hemingway as an overbearing ass."

"I don't know, Papa was just getting less and less like himself."

"Some people are so interested in looking back. I'm not interested in that. I'm just interested in too many things going on now."

Most of his knuckles have been broken at one time or another, he says. "I didn't do a lot of fighting as a kid. But I hit doors a lot."

And: "I'll tell you something. For 10 years I heard Gigi say that Pauline's adrenal gland had nothing to do with her death -- and then he exonerates himself in his book by using that as the cause."

And: "Well, the truth is, I think for years, any of us who were involved with him suffered some form of trauma."

And: "I believe that he never really intended to hurt us by leaving us out of his will. My own feeling is, there must have been another will. It's never been found, though. Look, if you have a parent like that, who all your life has told you, 'Bum, you'll never have to worry because I've made careful provision to take care of all you boys' -- well, then it just doesn't seem possible he'd turn around like that."

He has so many stories. He remembers Max Perkins accompanying him and Papa to Penn Station, where they boarded a Pullman bound for Miami. But at Trenton, a bit before Philadelphia, the conductor knocked on the door and delivered a telegram. Papa read the telegram and stuffed it in his pocket and said, "Mr. Bum, the plans have just changed." Mr. Bum was 5. Papa left the little boy in the care of a porter, got off at Philadelphia, caught another train west.

Grandpa Hemingway had just shot himself in the head with his old Civil War pistol.

"I'm not planning on it," Jack says. He means suicide.

He drives by his father's grave every time he goes into town. No, doesn't think about it that much, he says.

Isn't there an inevitable diminishment, being the son of someone like Ernest Hemingway?

He considers this. "Well, at least there's displacement."

But aren't you even a little resentful that he gave more to art than to his family? He considers this too. "No, and I'll tell you one reason why I feel it quite acceptable. My mother, along with Papa's other eventual wives -- Pauline, Marty Gelhorn, Mary Welch -- they all, at one time or another, no matter how angry they were at him at the moment, said, 'Look, Papa is special. He writes so beautifully. We have to let this go on.' "

Here is a story that goes against type: Once, when the eldest son was visiting his father and a stepmother in Key West, he did something horrible. He no longer remembers what it was. Maybe he filled the mosquito sprayer with tooth powder and sprayed one of his little brothers. Maybe he spit at the maid because she had a land crab in her hat and was trying to terrify the bejesus out of them. Anyway he had to have a whipping. Papa took him into the bathroom and sat him on the hopper and then proceeded to pull down his own pants and whack himself with a hairbrush. "When we come out," he whispered to his son, "Mother will know you were punished."

Here is another story: In the fall of 1939, Hemingway came out to Sun Valley and caught some big rainbows and browns in the Lower Cottonwoods section of the Big Wood River. The next year he came out again. He used to ship his fishing gear on Railway Express in an old metal footlocker. Looking inside that footlocker when you were a kid was like looking into King Tut's tomb. There were Hardy reels from England and silk leaders and any size hook and fluffy feathers for tying your own flies. It was gear Papa had accumulated over a lifetime.

And when he got out to Sun Valley that next year, they told him the trunk had been lost. Railway Express couldn't find it.

"I think it just broke his spirit for trout," Jack Hemingway says. "He was stricken. He never really fished streams much after that. You see, his heart could be broken a lot more easily than anybody ever knew."

And then: "Make sure you get some of that quality in. Please."

On July 21, 1966, five years after Ernest Hemingway divided himself into infinity, a bust of him, mounted on a stone pedestal, was dedicated at Trail Creek, outside Ketchum, in a grove of aspen and willow. It's a cool spot in the summer, up high. Somebody played Mozart at the dedication, somebody spoke eloquently to the crowd. This is what was inscribed on the pedestal, taken from something he once wrote about a friend:

Best of all he loved the fall/ The leaves yellow on the cottonwoods

Leaves floating on the trout streams

And above the hills/ The high blue windless sky

Now he will be a part of them forever

Jack was the only son present.