she risks sentimentality with her obsession with animals, particularly dogs—an obsession almost matched by a preoccupation with the paranormal. If it is starting to sound as if Hempel moves all over the cultural map, perhaps that is true. Yet all of the work in Collected Stories feels unified by an exquisitely calm prose style, by a quality of perception, and by a generous and compassionate sensibility. Her characters are very much a part of our place and time, and she enjoys them all.
In a couple of places, Hempel has included stories that are only one sentence long. Certainly, they are their own little jokes, but they can also suggest much more than that. Whole characters are hidden in them. Here’s “Memoir,” an entire story from her fourth collection: “Just once in my life—oh, when have I ever wanted anything just once in my life?”
Amy Hempel reads from her short stories at the U-M’s Residential College Auditorium on Thursday, November 20.
[Originally published in October, 2008.]