Friday, July 13, 2007

The Collected Stories Of Amy Hempel

These are stories that devastate you, and leave you in need of a stiff drink. Not exactly a feel-good comment on this collection, but I think it’s entirely appropriate. Amy Hempel’s writing is like a movie you fight tears through, or a song that reminds you of a personal tragedy. The characters within these stories are almost exclusively at their breaking points, or just beyond. It’s in that melancholy space that Hempel operates to the greatest effect, inviting the reader to slip past battered defenses and bear witness to the pain and frustration resulting from disconnection and disillusion.

Engendering complicity with her readers in a way that seems voyeuristic yet compassionate is a magical feat on Hempel's part. You’d be forgiven for thinking that some of these stories are autobiographical; Hempel is that convincing in her first-person portrayals. The closest comparison I could make is Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road. But, where Yates tempers his story of suburban decay with wry comic tones, Hempel serves up the discord raw and bleeding, any trace of humor distinctly of the gallows variety.

This is a beautiful book with emotion to spare. When you’re finished, I’ll pass you the tissue and the bottle.


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