From the Publisher
"It’s a given that someday a major world religion will arise from this book. It will become a religious text for our descendants, and millions will burn candles around statues of Ms. Hempel. She is a wonder. Honestly, each time you read this book it shortens your time in Purgatory and speeds your eventual salvation." —Chuck Palahniuk, for The New York Post
"This could be a very short review. Read this book. These stories are...always original and perfectly expressed." New York Times Book Review
"The literary event of the year." The Village Voice
"Amy Hempel's dazzling wit and exquisite use of language are impossible to disclaim." San Francisco Chronicle
"Hempel is unique. Her word-by-word virtuosity is off the charts; her artistic evolution is phenomenal." Chicago Tribune
"Hempel has established herself among the strongest voices in American fiction.... Hers is the work of a brave, unflinching mind.... Her prose conveys a world stripped to its essences." Los Angeles Times
"Over and over again, Hempel pulls out life's pathos so concisely, so extraordinarily, and yet underneath it all is affirmation.... In short, Hempel makes you into a better reader." San Francisco Chronicle
"A veritable cosmos of revelations is in reach in The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel." Chicago Tribune
"Few fiction writers are as intensely admired by their peers as is Hempel.... Hempel's is a hard-boiled sensibility, and each of her stories will leave the reader shaken." The Atlantic Monthly
"As gripping as any novel...Tart, shimmering fables of passion." The New York Observer
Hempel's four collections of short fiction are all masterful; while readers await the follow-up to last year's acclaimed The Dog of the Marriage, this compendium restores the full set to print. The first of Hempel's books, Reasons to Live (1985), is justly celebrated by Rick Moody in his preface as a landmark of its era's "short-story renaissance"; it introduces Hempel's unmistakable tone, where a "besieged consciousness," Moody says, hones sentences to bladelike sharpness "to enact and defend survival." The second, At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom (1990), is the main reason to buy this book: used copies are scarce, and the collection contains stories like "The Harvest." Hempel's genius, whether in first or third person, is to make her characters' feelings completely integral to the scenes they inhabit; her terse descriptions become elegantly telegraphic-and telepathic-reportage, with not a word wasted and not a single fact embellished. Her great subject is the failure of human coupling, and she charts it at every stage: giddy beginnings, sexy thick-of-its, wan (or violent) outcomes, grim aftermaths. Seeing it laid out kaleidoscopically in this volume is an awesome thing indeed, and a pleasure lovers of the short story will not want to deny themselves. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Read an Excerpt
The house next door was rented for the summer to a couple who swore at missed croquet shots. Their music at night was loud, and I liked it; it was not music I knew. Mornings, I picked up the empties they had lobbed across the hedge, Coronas with the limes wedged inside, and pitched them back over. We had not introduced ourselves these three months.
Between our houses a tall privet hedge is backed by white pine for privacy in winter. The day I heard the voice of a woman not the wife, I went out back to a spot more heavily planted but with a break I could just see through. Now it was the man who was talking, or trying to he started to say things he could not seem to finish. I watched the woman do something memorable to him with her mouth. Then the man pulled her up from where she had been kneeling. He said, "Maybe you're just hungry. Maybe we should get you something to eat."
The woman had a nimble laugh.
The man said, "Paris is where you and I should go."
The woman asked what was wrong with here. She said, "I like a beach town."
I wanted to phone the wife's office in the city and hear what she would sound like if she answered. I had no fellow feeling; all she had ever said to me was couldn't I mow my lawn later in the day. It was noon when she asked. I told her the village bylaws disallow mowing before seven-thirty, and that I had waited until nine. A gardener, hired by my neighbor, cared for their yard. But still I was sure they were neglecting my neighbor's orchids. All summer long I had watched for the renters to leave the house together so that I could let myself in with the key from the shelf in the shed and test the soil and water the orchids.
The woman who did not want to go to Paris said that she had to leave. "But I don't want you to leave," the man said, and she said, "Think of the kiss at the door."
Nobody thinks about the way sound carries across water. Even the water in a swimming pool. A week later, when her husband was away, the wife had friends to lunch by the pool. I didn't have to hide to listen; I was in view if they had cared to look, pulling weeds in the raspberry canes.
The women told the wife it was an opportunity for her. They said, "Fair is fair," and to do those things she might not otherwise have done. "No regrets," they said, "if you are even the type of person who is given to regret, if you even have that type of wistful temperament to begin with."
The women said, "We are not unintelligent; we just let passion prevail." They said, "Who would deny that we have all had these feelings?"
The women told the wife she would not feel this way forever. "You will feel worse, however, before you feel better, and that is just the way it always is."
The women advised long walks. They told the wife to watch the sun rise and set, to look for solace in the natural world, though they admitted there was no comfort to be found in the world and they would all be fools to expect it.
The weekend the couple next door had moved in their rental began on Memorial Day I heard them place a bet on the moon. She said waxing, he said waning. Days later, the moon nearly full in the night sky, I listened for the woman to tell her husband she had won, knowing they had not named the terms of the bet, and that the woman next door would collect nothing.
The Dog of the Marriage copyright © 2005 by Amy Hempel