Category: Hempel, Amy


well, ive just gone a dreadful long while without blogging a short story. i read the fiction in the New Yorker almost regularly, but they’re all boring.

Amy Hempel is lumped in with those minimalist writers from the 80s, folks like Raymond Carver and Lorrie Moore (my high school favorites). i never read Hempel, which is too bad, because just based on “The Harvest” i may like her best. her sentences are short but weird. this used to be my favorite literary aesthetic, until i got into McCarthy, which got me into Faulkner, which got me into the more baroque side of modernism.

but that’s a false binary: the important thing about the best prose writers is that the sentence is the base unit of their work, as is the case with Hempel.

“The Harvest” tells the story of a woman in a very bad accident. Then she tells us what really happened in this accident, that is, to the real Hempel, who really was in a nasty motorcycle crash. And then she tells us an event that actually happened concurrently with this in her life, which in a work of fiction would have been too unbelievable.

so you can see what a reflexive exercise about fiction vs. nonfiction the piece is.

it’s a rain of interesting sentences:

In the hospital, after injections, I knew there was pain in the room — I just didn’t know whose pain it was.

two odd interactions with men:

“There’s another thing,” he said. “We have to talk here about marriageability.”

The tendency was to say marriage-a-what? although I knew what he meant the first time I heard it.

I was eighteen years old. I said, “First, don’t we talk about dateability?”

The man of the week was already gone, the accident driving him back to his wife.

“Do you think looks are important?” I asked the man before he left.

“Not at first,” he said.

our narrator is already attending to language in witty ways, which helps when she breaks in to tell you “what I have left out of ‘The Harvest.'” “I leave a lot out when I tell the truth.”

The man of the week, whose motorcycle it was, was not a married man. But when you thought he had a wife, wasn’t I liable to do anything? And didn’t I have it coming?


the unbelievable addition was the breakout of George Jackson from San Quentin prison. injured cops were brought to the same hospital the speaker/Hempel was staying.

short, smart, intriguing. it may be the New Yorker house style, but Hempel is so elliptical with her narrative — she’s a fan of lots of line breaks. no epiphanies. the sentences are simple yet they spin off in their information: they aren’t meant to build up to anything. there’s no beginning middle end, just myth, anti-myth, and a truth-is-stranger coda.

with a heavy heart i realize that even the 80s minimalist crew is too avant garde for today’s editors.

but the important thing is attend to the sentence, simple or baroque.