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The Collected Stories

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  6,611 ratings  ·  627 reviews
The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel gathers together the complete work of a writer whose voice is as singular and astonishing as any in American fiction. Hempel, fiercely admired by writers and reviewers, has a sterling reputation that is based on four very short collections of stories, roughly fifteen thousand stunning sentences, written over a period of nearly three deca ...more
Hardcover, 409 pages
Published May 9th 2006 by Scribner Book Company
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Average rating 4.26  · 
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Adrianne Mathiowetz
Mar 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Hemingway fans, people who hate Hemingway
Recommended to Adrianne by: Rick Moody, who for the record writes an annoying introduction.
This is one of those books that has you rereading sentences over and over again, not because you couldn't parse their basic meaning, but because you suspect that a second reading will glean another, more subtle bit of information. It will also make you want to own a dog. It will also have you falling in love with Amy Hempel and wanting to make her your bride, in a house on the countryside with a weedy garden and a swamp nearby.

I started reading God of Small Things within five minutes of finishin
Amy Hempel writes intriguing, beautifully constructed sentences. Piecemeal they are pretty darn awesome. Here's the rub. I'm not sure if how one incredible sentence leads into another is coherent enough for me. I found a major disconnect. It's like being walked into a conversational corner, like recently when my sister in law compared the intrigues of Tupperware parties with Australian parliament. There may be true enough correlations, but I just couldn't get there. Either place.

On the other han
Am I the only reader who doesn't take pleasure in reading Amy Hempel? She is always praised for writing "the perfect sentence," for the way she distills a story to its poetic essence, for writing precise little gems. (Some stories are less than two pages long.) How can I describe my aversion? Is it that I feel like I'm being toyed with? That Hempel's spareness is a literary exercise? There's a chill in her writing that comes from that spareness, I think. There was one story that was superb, "In ...more
Kiran Bhat
Sep 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Amy Hempel is a master of the sentence, as well as under-statement. She can create paragraphs that pack more emotional sentiment than entire novels. Part of this is her ability to render the verisimilitude of a moment and place it directly into her character's eyes. She can also be funny and sarcastic too. There are few contemporary writers who have as much versatility as she does, at least in the small slice of Americana she chooses to write from. ...more
Jul 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: aspiring writers
The reason for reading this book was because I could not otherwise get away from this lady until doing so. One such instance involved an innocent perusal of Raymond Carver's wikipedia entry, and there was Hempel and Gordon Lish sitting one booth over and trying to look conspicuously casual. Another time I was cruising (feeling all manly and disenfranchised, of course), and there she was again, rocking back and forth on her heels expectantly after blurting out an awkward "Hi!". This ...more
Ian Mullet
Sep 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
i kind of just want to copy one of her stories and so that's what i'm going to do. her stories are pretty short and this may be the shortest of them all. it's called:

"The Man in Bogata"

The police and emergency service people fail to make a dent. The voice of the pleading spouse does not have the hoped-for effect. The woman remains on the ledge -- though not, she threatens, for long.

I imagine that I am the one who must talk the woman down. I see it, and it happens like this.

I tell the woman about
I know it's a cliche, but some of these stories just took my breath away. "In the Cemetery where Al Jolson is buried" is just extraordinary, but there are at least a half a dozen other stories which are just as good.

This book contains all four collections of short stories written by Hempel over the last 20 years and has been praised to the skies. Deservedly so, IMO. Some of the stories are less than a page long, but they all pack a punch.

A couple of months later, and I'm downgrading this review
Mar 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I workshopped a story about a dog in one of my fiction writing classes at school last semester, and several people informed me that I needed to read Amy Hempel. They told me that she wrote these great stories that always had dogs in them.

They always have dogs in them? I asked. That's like her trademark?

And while I was busy sort of mocking this idea, one of my friends pointed out that I had written a story about a dog, and I found myself out of excuses.

And wow, am I ever glad that I read the wor
Autumn Christian
Aug 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Every story is a treasure - a puzzle box, or a quilt of memories - every sentence like an imperceptible razor.
Daniel Chaikin
May 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"My heart—I thought it stopped. So I got in my car and headed for God." So entered Amy Hempel into the book world, a master of the line to the point of hyper-intense concision. Hempel was one of the great short story writers of the 1980's whose career went beyond the popularity of form. When short stories weren't selling so well the in the 1990's, she tried to transform into a longer form writer, coming out with only the 80-page story Tumble Home, a good illustration of why that's not her streng ...more
Vincent Scarpa
Mar 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
It'd been a while since I reread the entirety of Hempel's Collected. There are certain stories I revisit with regularity—"In the Cemetery...," "Today Will Be a Quiet Day," "The Harvest," "The Most Girl Part of You," "The Dog of the Marriage"—but I felt an urge to go through them all again, and I'm so glad I did. Not that it delivered me unto anything I didn't already know—Amy Hempel is a genius, and on the Mount Rushmore of short story writers, DUH—but it was a pleasure to reread stories that ha ...more
Erik F.
Feb 20, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: short-stories
There is some really terrific material in this collection; Hempel has a remarkable talent for refreshing turns of phrase and revealing details that lesser writers would never consider. At their best the stories exude sprightly spontaneity along with shrewd perceptions of human emotions and shortcomings. Hempel's voice is consistently wry, tough, and wise (but never self-important or excessively pessimistic). She's charming and disarming, yet unafraid of packing emotional punches; candid honesty ...more
Bhaskar Maji
Jul 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Amy Hempel's powerful fiction will make you cry, will make you laugh, and finally will break your heart and then send it out to dry.

Readers, she will teach you what it means to read fiction again.

Writers, beware - there is a Ramadhir Singh inside her that wants to tell you ki "Rehne do beta, tumse na ho payega..." Or as Chuck Palahniuk, the writer who introduced me to Amy Hempel's fiction says, "You will write, but you will never write this well."
Sentimental Surrealist
Contrarian Opinion #1: Reasons for Living is the weakest collection of the four. Still good, with the obvious classic "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Was Buried," but in moments it feels too sketchy, or too disjointed, or too oddly paced.

Contrarian Opinion #2: The Dog of the Marriage is, by a wide margin, the strongest collection of the four. This is the work of a writer who has learned to craft not just beautiful sentences, but powerful stories that focus on grief and recovery, major tragedy
Jeanette (Again)
This has all four of Amy Hempel's short story collections in one volume. I am assigning it four stars mostly on the strength of her first collection, Reasons to Live published way back in the 1980s.

I kept thinking "a female Richard Brautigan" while reading her early stories. Quirky subjects and bizarre dialogue. You just never know where she's going to go next. Three of my four favorite stories in the whole book are from this first collection. The other three collections just don't have that ed
Jan 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Annie Dillard writes in one of her books about a young student approaching his famous writer/professor. "So you think I can be a great writer?" asks the student. "I don't know. Do you like sentences?"" answers his teacher. I thought about this as I read Amy Hempel's book because I paused after so many sentences while reading. Paused not only for "wow" but paused also for "mmm" and paused also for "ouch", like when the sentence evoked the memory of hurt (to you or by you). If you like to write, t ...more
Feb 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Contained within these pages are short stories that can make you stop breathing, sentences that I will remember forever and ever, that burned themselves into my brain the second I read them. I was AMAZED to learn that "In the Cemetary where Al Jolson is Buried" was the first piece of fiction she'd EVER written. It's beautiful and real, more real than this keyboard I'm typing on or the trees out my window. I will buy my own copy of this book and re-read these stories for the rest of my life. Each ...more
Ann Douglas
Jan 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel is actually four books in one. The book pulls together the short stories published in Hempel's collections Reasons to Live (1985), At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom (1990), Tumble Home (1997), and The Dog of the Marriage (2005). Hempel's writing is dark and often funny. Her imagery is always memorable ("her voice has lost weight"). And her observations (via her narrators) about her characters are always telling ("He could not wait to get rid of them so he cou ...more
May 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
this collection of stories is really powerful. a lot of stories about how we deal with grief, love, loss, and how we balance out the affections of the world with our own weights we carry around. i say "we" when i mean "the characters", but you get the point. its amazing. The story "in the cemetary where al jolson is buried" about dealing with a friend's death is really beautiful, and "the harvest" was particularly good. i also highly suggest, "and lead us not into penn station". i mean, it's thr ...more
Aug 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing
It was hard for me to read this book without constantly thinking about the agonizing amount of work that had to go into every single sentence. I kept picturing this frowny-faced, chain-smoking woman slumped over a typewriter desperately trying to warp every word to express exactly what she wanted. The end result was appropriately rewarding.
Nov 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
I think I'm in love.

Fans of the short story will love Amy Hempel. Fans of good writing will love Amy Hempel.

She says so much, yet her language is completely uncluttered. These stories need to be read slowly so that they may be savored. I almost want to reread the whole collection so that I can pick up anything I may have missed the first time around.
vi macdonald
Jun 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
These short stories are beautiful right down the the sentences that are assembled to create them. I don't know exactly what to say about them beyond that - just that these are some of the most beautiful pieces if short fiction I've ever read, and that Amy Hempel can compose the ever loving crap out of a sentence. ...more
2.5 stars. Good stories keenly observed and literately told. I had a hard time deciding whether to go with 2 or 3 stars. I prefer to read books, whether fiction or nonfiction, that don't seem like the author is either taking him- or herself too seriously or is trying too hard to write capital-L Literature, and Amy Hempel does both. And she's very good at it, which is why, of course, she's beloved of literary critics and writers alike. ...more
Jan 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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'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 t
Dec 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amy Hempel is a pretty pretty cool lady. She writes kind of like Joan Didion, except a little funnier and with more stories about dogs. I really enjoyed this compilation of her four short story books, which is full of simple yet touching musings on California, animals, painters, infidelity, loss -- and starting anew after loss. Many stories touch on dark issues but I would say that overall, her work is quite uplifting. And "The Dog of the Marriage," a story about a woman who trains cute pups to ...more
Dec 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Her sentences are clear and hard and sometimes heavy, like glass I-beams. That's a bad metaphor, because they aren't transparent; the sentences are the things you notice the most.

I first read Amy Hempel's story, "The Harvest," a while ago. I don't remember who told me about it. Someone in a writing group somewhere. I found it online and thought it was the most compressed, sharp blade of a story I'd ever read. I saved it somewhere on a now-defunct laptop. But now I've got the collection.

Most of
Jan 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is a book that many fiction writers have been waiting for for a long time, especially since Hempel's "Reasons to Live" has been out of print for a while. Essentially, this omnibus collection gathers together Hempel's four books of short fiction, including her most recent "The Dog of the Marriage." The book has been widely lauded in the press, but I will just say here that if you are looking to read some short stories by a master of minimalist fiction whose work is wryly funny and sad at the ...more
Mar 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who love short stories, writers
Hempel is amazing. Her prose is as crisp and sharp as you'll find and yet, enviably, appears effortless. Her style reminds me of a writing instructor of mine, who would always ask us: "Is every word in that sentence necessary? How much would you pay for that one there?" The lesson being, if you wouldn't lay your money on the line for any extraneous words, why include them? If Hempel took my instructor's class, she would be the teacher's pet. Every word in Hempel's stories has a purpose and every ...more
Valerie Baber
Mar 30, 2009 rated it it was ok
Because I typically fall asleep or become distracted after a few pages of reading, short stories are ideal for me. In addition to that, a well-read friend of mine recommended this book to me, so I was really looking forward to exploring it. My excitement did not last long, however. I've read about four of her stories now, and I'm still wondering when things are supposed to become interesting. The book has been given plenty of awards and good reviews, but I can't quite seem to figure out why. Not ...more
Karl Nehring
Aug 28, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Nobody
I tried to like her stories, but after making it about a third of the way through this book, I gave up -- something I rarely do. The writing just seemed too affected, too deliberately offhand. Try as I might, I simply could not connect with her characters, and I simply could not relate to the universe they inhabited. A quick example: In one story, a character is said to hurl his wife's false teeth "like a discus." Sorry, that is simply not believable, and seems to have been written by someone wh ...more
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Amy Hempel is an American short story writer, journalist, and university professor at Brooklyn College. Hempel was a former student of Gordon Lish, who eventually helped her publish her first collection of short stories. Hempel has been published in Harper's, Vanity Fair, GQ, and Bomb. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, as well as the Ambassador Book Award in 2007, the Rea Award for ...more

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