By Aaron Calvin
To be honest, I had never heard of Amy Hempel before I attended her reading. What I found today was an author who writes refreshingly unique prose.
What struck me most about the author's reading today were both the structure of her words and the varied style of her work. Her short stories often begin with encapsulating sentences, simultaneously introducing the reader to the story and foreshadowing events to come. This is impressive especially considering the brevity and poignancy of this device.
As a student of writing, I immediately noticed and admired her syntax. Her sentences are both direct an eloquent. They contain no floridity, but are acoustically precise. Economically, she maximizes every ounce of the space on her page.
At the reading, Hempel began reading stories that were barely paragraphs long. She claimed they were her attempt at poetry. By my opinion, they were her successful attempt at poetry. While each story had an identifiable narrative, they were formed and sounded more akin to prose poems, more reminiscent of Elizabeth Bishop than John Cheever.
Her final selection was longer, a short story called "The Dog of the Marriage, Pt. 1." It was longer than the first few, but equally impressive. In this extensive short, Hempel allowed herself space to elaborate on her themes and incorporate professional jargon (in this case, the jargon of seeing eye dog trainers), a penchant of hers that allows for realistic depiction of the lives of characters that breath.
What really seals the deal and truly qualifies Amy Hempel for the title of "Great Writer" are the themes she incorporates into her stories. Many of her characters experience or are touched by some form of loss, leaving commonplace scenes with elegiac tones. Her work incorporates dark, subtle humor, prompting the audience to laugh despite the situation.
So next time you're at the bookstore, I would recommend picking up a collection of Amy Hempel's short stories. While intricate, they are accessible and entertaining and well worth the read.