Sing To It: New Stories, Amy Hempel 2019
In this, her fifth collection of short stories, the Pen/Malamud Award winning author Amy Hempel has established herself as one of the best short fiction writers of today. The fifteen stories in this volume range from half a page to novella length and from fine, detailed description of an individual’s life to a telegraphic metaphor of loss. The title is based on an Arab proverb: When danger approaches, sing to it, and Hempel’s characters seem to be in continuous danger, though the settings and the backgrounds differ. Women are seduced, raped, emotionally damaged, fired from their jobs, have abortions, commit suicide, give up a baby for adoption, and on and on, but the reader doesn’t experience these traumatic events in real time in these stories. In fact, not much actually happens in these stories. They consist primarily of reflection on past events, attempts to wrest understanding and rationality from a brutal and uncaring world. This book was reviewed in all the major newspapers and magazines and was widely hailed. My personal favorite critic and Harvard professor, James Wood loved the book and wrote in his New Yorker review: “Each purified sentence [in Sing to It] is itself a story, a kind of suspended enigma. . . . Hempel, like some practical genius of the forest, can make living structures out of what look like mere bric-a-brac, leavings, residue. It’s astonishing how little she needs to get something up and going on the page. A pun, a malapropism, or a ghost rhyme is spark enough.”
–James Wood, The New Yorker
Personally, I found the stories a bit too abstract and vague, though the writing was quite powerful and at times beautiful. For short stories, I think I’ll stick with Andrea Barrett and Lydia Davis.