I have a friend who once wanted to learn to play guitar. But, when he heard Jimi Hendrix play, he decided to give up the instrument because he couldn'...moreI have a friend who once wanted to learn to play guitar. But, when he heard Jimi Hendrix play, he decided to give up the instrument because he couldn't imagine himself ever being able to play like that. Amy Hempel makes me feel the same way about writing--my fledgling attempts at writing fiction look clumsy and silly next to Ms. Hempel's elegant and delicate prose.
Ms. Hempel has a reputation for being a minimalist writer. Not being a literature major, I'm unsure of the exact definition of that term of art. I'd always thought of minimalism as writing with the short, choppy sentences of Hemingway. Ms. Hemple's version of minimalism is different than that--one more of scope than of style. Her writing reminds me a bit of Chekov.
Some of the stories in this collection are funny, some are sad. Most are both sad and funny. If I have any criticism of the book, it's that Ms. Hempel indulges in the moroseness that seems to afflict the vast majority of short story writers. When it comes to short stories, every tickle in the back of one's throat is a fatal condition. Every love affair is a heart-break waiting to happen. And all humor is of the gallows variety (ok, maybe not "all" but a lot). I don't know whether the short story, as a form, encourages despondency or whether despondent people are drawn to write short stories.
Either way, reading this book in one sitting might require a prescription for Zoloft. I'm not saying that this is a bad thing, but be prepared for the fact that she's going to get under your skin.
According to the author, "All men want a virgin in a gingham dress." Really? All men? Unlike Ms. Dowd, I do not feel qualified to speak to the desires...moreAccording to the author, "All men want a virgin in a gingham dress." Really? All men? Unlike Ms. Dowd, I do not feel qualified to speak to the desires of every man on the planet, but, speaking for myself, I can attest to the fact that I have absoutely no...idea what gingham is.
Ms. Dowd's reputation as an intellectual took a pretty big hit after this book was published. And it's easy to see why. The tone of the book is catty and trivial, and it consists of somewhat random and unorganized rants.
The theme of the book (to the extent that there is one) is that boys don't want to date smart girls. Dowd's proof for this assertion is that she has some smart girlfriends who have trouble finding dates. Not exactly strenous sociological research. If we were to apply this type of logical thinking to the dating trouble of my single friends, we would have to come to the rather radical conclusion that all women are lesbians.
This book would be very frustrating and insulting if one were to take it as a serious a discussion of gender in our modern culture. It takes on a whole other feel, however, if you read it as little more than a vehicle for Dowd's attempts at her brand of Dorthy-Parkeresque witticisms. Taken in this light, the book feels less insidious. Sort of like Henny Youngman's jokes about his wife.
I will leave you with this little syllogism:
--Dowd's premise:Intelligent and witty women have trouble getting dates.
--It is widely reported that Maureen Dowd has a long and varied romantic history, and she gets lots of dates.