Sing To It (Amy Hempel, 2019)
It’s been 84 years. Not exactly. It’s been actually a little more than a decade since Amy Hempel's last book was released. It felt like 84, though. Now Hempel returns with a new short story collection that, hmm, it’s only 160 pages long. Some will wonder what on Earth she was doing all this time.
She was writing.
Amy Hempel knows it’s not about length but quality. While nowadays more and more renowned authors come back with massive books—Paul Auster’s latest novel is over 1,000 pages long—Amy Hempel puts everyone to shame with awe-inspiring literature that is eight times shorter. Her brief accounts tell you more about what it feels like to live in this world than a high fantasy book or a historical novel with three sequels, but going straight to the point and choosing the right words with precision is not as easy as it sounds.
Most of her stories can be considered as flash fiction as they’re less than two pages long, but they’re not stories you’re meant to read in a flash, but slowly like you’re savouring every single word.
Amy Hempel is above all a humanist and an animal rights activist who manages to find beauty and wit in this sordid and unjust life without being cloying or manipulative. Even if there’s elegance and pleasantness in all of her stories, Hempel is not afraid of showing the ugly side of mankind. In A Full-Service Shelter, Hempel narrates the devotion of a volunteer worker that takes care of dogs that have been abandoned or are going to be sacrificed. The nameless main character gets a life-affirming experience from this demanding job even though Hempel doesn’t shy away from taking into account all the atrocities people do to dogs and the debilitating sacrifices volunteers make. It’s a compassionate story about altruistic commitment, but thanks to Hempel’s voice it never feels maudlin or false.
Sing To It closes with Cloudland, a quiet novella about a woman who wonders what happened to the baby she gave for adoption. The American author uses her characteristic warmth and humour to tell a story that reveals, towards the end, quite disturbing incidents.