Reasons to LiveBook |
With grace and wit, Hempel illuminates the struggles and regrets of characters who survive even if they did not choose survival.
Amy Hempel's first short-story collection established her as an austere writer discriminating in her use of words. Most of the characters in Reasons to Live have lost something: a chance to be brave, a mother's scent, a great romance. In perhaps Hempel's most widely anthologized piece, "In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried," the narrator remembers being too afraid to stay by her best friend's bed as she lay dying. Another, "Nashville Gone to Ashes," is told by a woman jealous of the affection her dead husband had for their pets. Yet Hempel doesn't articulate her characters' loss directly but rather intimates their shame and sadness through small gestures and subtle observations. Though many have called her a minimalist, a more accurate term is miniaturist; rather than stripping away all but the bare bones of nouns and verbs, Hempel collapses a grand breadth into a smaller, denser narrative. At times, her sparse wording less resembles a story than a situation. More often, her style offers a poignant illustration of her characters' tragic failures in courage and lapses in dignity. With grace and wit, Hempel's economical short stories (some are only a page long) offer a wealth of understanding, illuminating the struggles and regrets of characters who survive even if they did not choose survival.