Tuesday, June 12, 2007

reading Amy Hempel

Tuesday, June 12, 2007
I've heard the name Amy Hempel for a while now. She is a major influence of Chuck Palahniuk and she has been mentioned on his website several times whenever a new collection of stories is published.

This is what Palahniuk had to say about Hempel back in 2002:
Every sentence isn't just crafted, it's tortured over. Every quote and joke, what Hempel tosses out comedian-style, is something funny or profound enough you'll remember it for years. The same way, I sense, Hempel has remembered it, held on to it, saved it for a place where it could really shine. Scary jewelry metaphor, but her stories are studded and set with these compelling bits. Chocolate chip cookies with no bland "cookie" matrix, just nothing but chips and chopped walnuts.

In that way, her experience becomes your experience. Teachers talk about how students need to have an emotional breakthrough, an "ah-hah!" discovery moment in order to retain information. Fran Lebowitz still writes about the moment she first looked at a clock and grasped the concept of telling time. Hempel's work is nothing but these flashes, and every flash makes you ache with recognition.

When I was looking for some more short fiction recently I ran across three of her stories: Offertory, The Harvest, and Today Will be a Quiet Day. It is in the minimalist style of writing in which we can see how she influenced Palahniuk.

The Harvest, I think, is a far better and much more interesting story than Offertory. It features a woman having suffered a car accident which almost killed her and then she narrates what happens after, learning about what comes next.

Then Hempel twists it. I might have to do some research to find out for sure, and I’m not terribly interested in doing the research is that Hempel throws a twist with the second half of the story. The way the rest reads is that Hempel is explaining the background to The Harvest and tells what the truth is and why the truth would not have worked in fiction, even truthful fiction.
I leave a lot out when I tell the truth. The same when I write a story. I'm going to start now to tell you what I have left out of "The Harvest," and maybe begin to wonder why I had to leave it out.

I rather liked The Harvest. Offertory did not really do much for me, and Today Will Be a Quiet Day was a good story, but not as good as The Harvest.

Real technical analysis, here, huh?

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