Andrew's Reviews > The Collected Stories

The Collected Stories by Amy Hempel
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's review
Feb 12, 2011

bookshelves: american-fiction, 2000s-american-fiction, 90s-american-fiction, american-short-stories
Read in February, 2011

Amy Hempel is a beautifully spare writer. This seems to be the consensus, and I agree with it. Her sentences are clipped and imagistic, and it's hard not to make Raymond Carver comparisons. But there was a great wake of Carver clones in the '80s, and Ms. Hempel is, unfortunately, not nearly as talented. Carver was able to make his empty descriptions pulse with life and truth, whereas Hempel's leave me wanting something more.

I can't argue with her stylistic skill, but her narrative needs work. I'm not opposed to a lack of "plot," but too many of her stories feel a little like flipping through channels. You see one expensive, artfully rendered image after another, but it doesn't have the critical head-smash effect of a William S. Burroughs cut-up. It's just channel-surfing. That said, it's very accurate to our present state of being. In this way she expresses modern life very well. I know everyone says it's her best story, but I'll sing its praises anyway... "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried" is a wonder of minimalism. She uses the set-of-brief-descriptions technique to its full effect, and it's like looking at a glittering mosaic. But it seems to have functioned as a template for all the other stories.

I still have to recommend Amy Hempel, especially to other writers, who will definitely find something to appreciate. But I'd start with her first collection of stories. That'd be more worth your time.
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