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The Collected Stories of Amy Hempelby Amy Hempel
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I read The Collected Stories in order, over the course of a single week. My long overdue introduction to Amy Hempel — it was a very good week, indeed. By the time I finished I'd penciled five names onto the back of the last page: friends who'll soon be getting a copy in the mail.
It would not be unfair to call Hempel a writer's writer, but it might be misleading — she's a reader's writer, too. Some of her stories contain only a few lines; few run longer than ten or twelve pages. None rely on high-concept mechanics or lofty language. She demands very little of her readership, and then delivers in spades. Hempel has been called a miniaturist — fair enough — but if her stories tend to be small in scale, they drill as deep as fiction goes. Emotionally charged, fantastically precise, an Amy Hempel story is a miracle of articulation.
Of our two positions — you, not having read Amy Hempel, and me, having read and loved Amy Hempel — the equivalents are as follows: If we were playing Monopoly, consider Park Place mine. If we were trying to determine who tops whom in the food chain, please trust that you'd be the thin blade of saw grass in the mouth of the lamb I stalked for dinner. I play first chair in the philharmonic, I toss first pitch at the World Series. What I'm saying is reading Amy Hempel gives you the advantage. Because her fiction is perfect — her prose so distilled, you couldn't imagine she could pack in one voluminous truth after another (but she does); her understanding of undercurrent is so eerie, I find I sometimes have to brace myself for what's to come. It's all too easy to dismiss the hyperbole of book blurbs, but I invite you to open any page and start reading. I promise you'll already be a little better off for it.
Hempel used to be in that category known as a "writer's writer" — critically praised, loved devotedly by fellow authors, and often taught (particularly her near-perfect story, "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried") but not widely read. In fact, several of her early collections of stories were out of print and difficult to find. But with the publication of her Collected Stories a few years ago, there's now no excuse for not reading her. Hempel is one of the best story writers in America today, hands-down — her incredible, sharp-edged prose, her precise minimalist style, her devastating and often absurd humor and poignancy have made her a touchstone and influence for other contemporary writers. Hempel's Collected Stories is an abundance that will reward readers again and again.
"Few fiction writers are as intensely admired by their peers as is Hempel, though she's never published a novel. Her reputation rests solely on the four landmark collections of short fiction gathered here....Although leavened by a wry rue, Hempel's is a hard-boiled sensibility, and each of her stories — many only a few pages long, and one of which consists of a single sentence — will leave the reader shaken..." Benjamin Schwarz, Atlantic Monthly (read the entire Atlantic Monthly review)
Synopses & Reviews
Amy Hempel is a master of the short story. This celebrated volume gathers together her complete work — four short collections of stunning stories about marriages, minor disasters, and moments of revelation.
With her inimitable compassion and wit, Hempel introduces characters who make choices that seem inevitable, and whose longings and misgivings evoke eternal human experience.
For readers who have known Hempel's work for decades and for those who are just discovering her, this indispensable volume contains all the stories in Reasons to Live, At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom, Tumble Home, and The Dog of the Marriage. No reader of great writing should be without it.
"Hempel's four collections of short fiction are all masterful; while readers await the follow-up to last year's acclaimed The Dog of the Marriage, this compendium restores the full set to print. The first of Hempel's books, Reasons to Live (1985), is justly celebrated by Rick Moody in his preface as a landmark of its era's 'short-story renaissance'; it introduces Hempel's unmistakable tone, where a 'besieged consciousness,' Moody says, hones sentences to bladelike sharpness 'to enact and defend survival.' The second, At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom (1990), is the main reason to buy this book: used copies are scarce, and the collection contains stories like 'The Harvest.' Hempel's genius, whether in first or third person, is to make her characters' feelings completely integral to the scenes they inhabit; her terse descriptions become elegantly telegraphic — and telepathic — reportage, with not a word wasted and not a single fact embellished. Her great subject is the failure of human coupling, and she charts it at every stage: giddy beginnings, sexy thick-of-its, wan (or violent) outcomes, grim aftermaths. Seeing it laid out kaleidoscopically in this volume is an awesome thing indeed, and a pleasure lovers of the short story will not want to deny themselves. Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Hempel writes with an effortless wit...showing us the larger shapes of our lives by capturing their most fleeting and fragmentary moments." Elizabeth Gleick, New York Times Book Review
"Each story is so tight, so boiled to bare facts, that all you can do is lie on the floor, face down, and praise it." Chuck Palahniuk
"There are writers who pull you along in deep, satisfying drafts of narrative and human color; then there are writers who, sentence by sentence, cause you to stop breathing. Hempel leads the latter group." O, The Oprah Magazine
"This could be a very short review. Read this book. These stories are...always original and perfectly expressed." New York Times Book Review
"Hempel is unique. Her word-by-word virtuosity is off the charts; her artistic evolution is phenomenal." Chicago Tribune
With her trademark compassion and wit, Hempel takes readers into the marriages, minor disasters, and moments of revelation in an uneasy America.
About the Author
Amy Hempel is the author of Tumble Home, Reasons to Live, At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom, The Dog of the Marriage, and the co-editor of Unleashed. Her stories have appeared in Elle, GQ, Harper's, Playboy, The Quarterly, and Vanity Fair. She teaches in the Graduate Writing Program at Bennington College and lives in New York City.
Table of Contents
On Amy Hempel
REASONS TO LIVE
AT THE GATES OF THE ANIMAL KINGDOM
THE DOG OF THE MARRIAGE
What Our Readers Are Saying
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