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The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel Hardcover – May 9, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
- Publisher : Scribner; 1st Edition (May 9, 2006)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 432 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0743289463
- ISBN-13 : 978-0743289467
- Item Weight : 1.23 pounds
- Dimensions : 6 x 1.31 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,039,197 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Reading these stories as poetry, I find them haunting, insightful, and beautiful. Some I have already reread, and I suspect that I will read them yet again to fully appreciate them. They speak to me on many levels, and I want to admire them from different perspectives. Many are rather dark, most are stark.
Fifty stories comprise this collection prefaced by a generous essay. By length most could be classified as shorter short stories. Two of them are a sentence long. The collection is the output of a writer acclaimed by her peers and institutions that bestow awards on exemplary authors
Ms. Hempel has been tagged as a minimalistic writer. Not every fictionalist so categorized accepts the designation. Raymond Carver didn't. Ms. Hempel doesn't seem to mind though she may not agree with her inclusion. I believe minimalism is about presentation, a collection of characteristics: clipped dialogue, scant physical description, little or no transitions, a somewhat staccato rhythm to the word flow. A literary scholar or critic can list more. You would think their lack would cripple a story. Ms. Hempel proves otherwise. She has the incomparable gift every first class author has, the ability to create intriguing situations.
Much of her fiction is drawn from her life. She said so in a Paris Review interview. Her mother's suicide, her best friend's terminal disease, her automobile accident, her affection for dogs and cats- undergo "a sea change into something rich and strange".
There are what I consider two difficulties with her stories. One is an unavoidable consequence for every writer.. Those topical references here and there -- names, products, events -- recognizable to those of the generations approximate to them lose familiarity with time. From "And Lead Us Not into Pen Station" in which a wax head is shown to a bartender:"'Auction at the old wax museum,' the man says. 'All anyone wanted was Elvis Presley and Martin Luther King. I picked up Richard Speck here for next to nothing.'"Presley and King have enough historical weight but Speck's fame as a mass murderer may elude a current generation's reader.
, The second are two selections "Housewife" and "Memoir". They are single sentence narratives. For a while there seemed to be a craze for how short fiction can get. The fad seems to have diminished although sites for them can be still be found on the internet. Now I'm not saying they have no right to exist. Literature is more democratic than government. But virtue to the extreme can be a vice, and here brevity become a feat like how long can a breath be held or how many push-ups can be done; astonishing yes, of consequence doubtful. If emotional and/or intellectual involvement is not the bedrock of stories, then what is? Such a foundation takes length. How much I am not wise enough to say, but I doubt a single sentence saving a death one suffices. Ms. Hempel is exemplary in showing the bullet impact of a short work. To me, however, neither of the two pieces mentioned above come close to the impact of, say, "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried".
"In my head there's a broken balcony I fall off of when I speak." (Du Jour)
I feel the same way.
There are bits and pieces of reflection on life, and it's personal and relatable. Her style is stripped bare but still has the ability to say a lot within one simple sentence.
"I thought the present was the safer bet. We can only die in the future, I thought; right now we are always alive." (Pool Night)
And there is comedy: (spoiler alert)
"That was the year the company had tried to cut corners. Alex’s budget for the conference had been reduced, and the motivational speaker she’d been able to afford was the backup quarterback for a losing team. He had, it turned out, one speech for all occasions and had earnestly urged the management team of The DanTel Group to 'stay in school.'"
I loved many of the stories. I could keep posting quotes, but I'll stop there. The reason it's not five stars is because of The Dog of the Marriage, which I didn't enjoy. I wanted to, but my quotes stopped at Tumble Home, reminding me of what came after.
Some stories are very short, a page long. But even those are good. The best ones tend to be average length.
These stories, above all, shows life in all its colors, good and bad, happy and sad. And it somehow makes me feel better about how things are. It keeps you going.
Thanks to Chuck Palahniuk for mentioning Amy Hempel years back. That's when I bought this collection.
Top reviews from other countries
Great tales include, In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried, Man In Bogota, Tumble Home and The Harvest. The last story is the outstanding Offertory which left me speechless. And in this sense, Hempel’s writing defies all the rules. There's no build-up to chaos. No satisfying ending. No inspiring romance. Instead, it's replaced with exquisite humanness which is at once threatening and humbling.
Car crashes and stray dogs and cats and dying, suffering, surviving and walking off planes scared shirtless of flying, it takes in all the weirdness of the way we live. I guess it's the realism which confronts and the fact that it feels like she's lived every word.
I read an author's guide to getting short stories published in which he included ones that won competitions. As I read these on my phone, Hempel's book lay open on my lap. I glanced across and compared the styles. And that was an eye-opener, because of the way her stories quietly rebel against, this sounds crazy, but the made-up world of so many writers. And by that, I mean the contrived way in which we try to improve on the world. She doesn't improve on anything!
Not to everyone's taste but well worth the read for me.
Readers, she will teach you what it means to read fiction again.
Writers, beware - there is a Ramadhir Singh inside her that wants to tell you ki "Rehne do beta, tumse na ho payega..." Or as Chuck Palahniuk, the writer who introduced me to Amy Hempel's fiction says, "You will write, but you will never write this well."