Short Stories All the Time

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... a few of my thoughts about 900, mostly contemporary, short stories.
Showing posts with label Hempel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hempel. Show all posts

16 March, 2016

Amy Hempel, "Beg, Sl, Tog, Inc, Cont, Rep"

This short story was included in Hempel's first short story collection, Reasons to Live. I have the volume The Collected Stories, published in trade paperback in 2007 which includes an introduction by Rick Moody.

"Beg, Sl, Tog, Inc, Cont, Rep" tells the story of a young woman who has recently had an abortion while she is a companion for a bed-resting pregnant woman, Dale Anne. The narrator learns how to knit and knitting sweaters becomes a metaphor for creating life, which the narrator cut short yet she  watches Dale Anne creating life. The story is told in first-person point of view and past tense. Dr. Diamond, Dale Anne's husband, listens to and talks with the narrator about her situation.

I'm certainly not giving the story the credit it is due. One has to read a short story and allow it to envelop you and sense the patterns created with language and events. This story reveals what it is like to be a woman who has had an abortion, yet attempts to rebuild, recreate, remember her own life. The narrator in this story takes up knitting.

The story is woven much as the lengths of yarn are woven. Knitting and yarn are ever present and the story ends with "K tog rem st. Knit together remaining stitches. Cast off loosely." The prefect prescription for healing.

09 January, 2015

Scott Gloden, "What is Louder"

This is the winning story selected by Amy Hempel in the American Short Fiction 2014 contest. It is told in first person and divided into seven sections. Tom works in a post office while his younger, by one year exactly, brother is in Pakistan disarming bombs. "What is Louder" is suspenseful and well-written and a quite enjoyable read. There are some extremely nice and astute characterizations and descriptions.

Favorite Lines:
"We lived together in the same expanses, only he made it seem like my perspective was glued inside a snow globe."

"Not to say we didn't love him to the point of fandom, but we had formed our own unit as brothers, and watching our parents retire to Arizona was, in some ways, the end of what they had been to us."

30 July, 2014

Amy Hempel, "A Full-Service Shelter"

A first-person POV story that begins every paragraph with either "they knew me" or "they knew us" which gives the story a musical rhythm and where "they" are the dogs. The narrator is a female who volunteers in an dog shelter in Spanish Harlem. She is an extremely caring animal lover. Character development is built via how "they know" her and her co-workers. Also throughout the story we learn about the dogs and their shenanigans as well as their needs and behaviors by what the volunteers are willing to do that is above and beyond what most kennel workers agree to do.

The story could work as positive propaganda for increased funding for dog kennels and animal shelters. It is a love story for dogs who are in need and have been mis-treated. While the listing format of the story states unequivocally how the full-service shelters operate, at the same time, I wonder, maybe too much space is allowed for a reader to remain non-empathetic, if that was their inclination entering the story. I'm not sure I believe that but I wonder. Or, maybe the "listing" of facts sways people who didn't have an opinion beforehand. Forgive my ramblings.

However, the narrator says that while she favors large breeds she is afraid of Presa Canarios. This breed had killed a friend of hers "in a tony apartment house" in San Francisco. An actual killing did occur in San Francisco in 2001 of a well-known athlete, Diane Whipple.

The epigraph is from a famous story written in the list format as well. Hempel was inspired by a line in the story, "In the Fifties," in which Leonard Michaels lists events in which he was involved that delineated the 1950s for him.

"They knew us as the ones who put pigs' ears on their pillows, like a chocolate in a good hotel."

"They knew us as the ones who put our fingers in mouths to retrieve a watch, a cell phone, a red bicycle reflector that a dog sucked on like a lozenge."

"Although some of the sweetest dogs were the ones rated 'moderate,' which was puzzling until we realized that behavior testing was done when a stray was brought in by police or a dog surrendered by his owner, when they were most scared."

"They knew me as the one who saw through the windowed panel in a closed ward door a dog lift first one front paw and then the other, offering a paw to shake though there was no one there, doing a trick he had once been taught and praised for, a dog not yet damaged but desperate."

Wikipedia page for Amy Hempel
Paris Review, interview with Hempel

17 November, 2013

Stephanie Coyne DeGhett, "Icons of the Everyday: Postcard Sleight of Hand and the Short Story"

Postcards, one-sided narratives or "open-faced narratives," have been used in short fiction pieces by many writers and in this essay, Stephanie Coyne DeGhett discusses six authors and stories: Hempel's "The New Lodger," Kaplan's "Love, Your Only Mother," Paley's "A Woman, Young and Old," Munro's "Postcard," Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain," and Millhauser's "The Sepia Postcard."

My favorite point that DeGhett makes is that,

"Of its readers, it (a postcard) demands an ability to write the story you are reading yourself, to fill in the gaps between the frame story and the small disclosures of the postcard, to see the disjunctions of meaning and layers of intention."

To me that is what a short story does and so a postcard is a short story of a short story, so to speak. This is an interesting article and one to hang on to for re-reading. There are many thoughts about short fiction that I want to revisit.

"…the postcard serves economy in the fiction that appropriates it by virtue of the associations it carries with it--travel, separation, impermanence--and its potential to subvert those associations…"

"Cryptic but not uncommunicative, the story shares a good deal in common with the nature of the picture postcard."

DeGhett's essay is in the December 2013 issue of The Writer's Chronicle.

27 January, 2011

A Conversation with Amy Hempel, moderated by Mary Robison at the University of Houston, 1992

This interview in Gulf Coast is interesting and here are a couple of passages that I find most helpful and want to remember.

"Well, I have several questions that I'm always asking myself, literally from paragraph to paragraph, before I go from draft to draft. One of them is in terms of the "I" narrator, present or not so present. Is the "I" there to observe or to declare its own feelings?"

"So if you talk about a kind of precision, if you stay with less, if instead of cluttering up and moving a story out laterally, you stay with one or two things and move down deeper and deeper into complication and don't stray from those little nuggets that you start with, then you have precision."

interview, with Rob Hart, 2008
interview, with Suzan Sherman, 1997

26 April, 2010

Amy Hempel's, "Greed"

"Greed" published in the Spring 2010 issue of Ploughshares combines a story of the Oedipus Complex with Adam and Eve. The narrator's husband has an affair with an "old" woman, Mrs. Greed. At first, the story seems told in an omniscient 1st person POV but then we learn that the narrator has stationed a hidden camera in her and her husband's bedroom. The story is just 4 1/2 pages long.

05 February, 2010

Amy Hempel, "In a Tub" and many more

Read Amy Hempel's "In a Tub," 1st person POV about a woman facing her mortality. And, "Tonight is a Favor to Holly," also written in 1st person POV. This story begins with the great sentence, "A blind date is coming to pick me up, and unless my hair grows an inch by seven o'clock, I am not going to answer the door." The next story in the collection is, "Celia is Back," a 3rd person POV story where the father uses a Jell-O pudding jingle contest to teach his children, "Luck is where preparation meets opportunity." The story, "Nashville Goes to Ashes," written in 1st person POV illustrates a woman examining her marriage after the death of her husband, Flea, a veternarian, by taking care of his left-behind animals. And, in "San Francisco," a younger daughter finds her mother dead after an earthquake while the older sister, Maidy, is at her psychiatrist's office.

Hempel's stories tend to be very short, "In a Tub" is less than 500 words but they are as complex and rich as any other. After reading one, I usually turn right around and read it again, first of all because I like them and secondly, to see how the heck she did it.

Here's a YouTube link to Hempel reading a portion of "The Dog of the Marriage."

31 January, 2010

Amy Hempel, "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolsonn is Buried"

Amy Hempel's "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried." Written in 3rd person POV. Best Friend is visiting/staying with her friend who is in Intensive Care dying. She tells the stories of things the friend "...won't mind forgetting." One of Hempel's many great sentences: "Nerves like that are only bought off by catastrophe." This is a story that lays it all on the line. I'm amazed at the honesty, not what we assume is honesty about friends facing the death of a friend but those thoughts and ideas we would never admit.