The Dog of the Marriage: Stories

The Dog of the Marriage: Stories

by Amy Hempel

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Amy Hempel's compassion, intensity, and illuminating observations have made her one of the most distinctive and admired modern writers. In three stunning books of stories, she has established a voice as unique and recognizable as the photographs of Cindy Sherman or the brushstrokes of Robert Motherwell. The Dog of the Marriage, Hempel's fourth collection, is


Amy Hempel's compassion, intensity, and illuminating observations have made her one of the most distinctive and admired modern writers. In three stunning books of stories, she has established a voice as unique and recognizable as the photographs of Cindy Sherman or the brushstrokes of Robert Motherwell. The Dog of the Marriage, Hempel's fourth collection, is about sexual obsession, relationships gone awry, and the unsatisfied longings of everyday life.

In "Offertory," a modern-day Scheherazade entertains and manipulates her lover with stories of her sexual encounters with a married couple as a very young woman. In "Reference # 388475848-5," a letter contesting a parking ticket becomes a beautiful and unnerving statement of faith. In "Jesus Is Waiting," a woman driving to New York sends a series of cryptically honest postcards to an old lover. And the title story is a heartbreaking tale about the objects and animals and unmired desires that are left behind after death or divorce.

These nine stories teem with wisdom, emotion, and surprising wit. Hempel explores the intricate psychology of people falling in and out of love, trying to locate something or someone elusive or lost. Her sentences are as lean, original, and startling as any in contemporary fiction.

Editorial Reviews

D. T. Max
The narrators of The Dog of the Marriage, use their impressive intelligences to tamp down their emotions, and there is something even more sad about their inability to express their pain for the very sophistication they bring to it. Why, if they are stressed or frantic, do they not just tell us so? And if they spend every living moment being horrified at the mess they have made of their lives, why displace their feelings onto, say, a missing dog? To which my answer would be: reading The Dog of the Marriage, you understand they have no other choice -- and the rest of us don't either.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
"[W]as there anybody who wasn't here to get over something too?" wonders the narrator in the sublime "Offertory." Not in this book, Hempel's fourth collection (after 1997's Tumble Home), as unnamed narrators struggle with breakups, disillusionment, loss. Two marriages come to grief in the title story: the narrator's husband falls in love with someone else, while her gift of a dog has tragic consequences for another couple. In "Jesus Is Waiting," a woman mourning the loss of her lover's affection drives obsessively, becoming a connoisseur of truck stops and budget motels, "moved to tears when the lane I am in merges with another." The 50-year-old narrator of "The Uninvited" muses on the eponymous movie as she delays taking a pregnancy test; the potential father is either her estranged husband or her rapist. Dogs appear often, as creatures more giving and wise than the men and women who own them. All the remarkable, original obliqueness of Hempel's previous work is here, but with slightly less of its heart, and an earlier lightheartedness has been exchanged for a kind of gorgeous severity, as if each story began at four times its length and was stripped away until only what was essential remained. Though it's not the most accessible of collections, it's deeply affecting, as Hempel paints a fictional world that is sharp and lonely but also marked by beauty and unexpected generosity. Agent, Liz Darhansoff. (Mar. 1) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
You can read the notes to these stories, all appearing on one page, as if they were a story. Hempel's (Reasons To Live) seven spare and enigmatic sentences identify quotations and allusions. Together, the references to Patricia Highsmith, a thanatologist, an obscure filmmaker, and Swinburne suggest something strange, if not menacing. In fact, the stories resemble the notes. "Memoirs" has only one sentence. The first-person female narrators are distraught. The title story, the longest and most coherent, involves a woman whose husband left her and another woman whose husband was killed by a car when he chased their dog, which had been trained by the first woman. In the last story, a woman maintains her lover's interest by describing her earlier sexual experiences in a threesome. "The Uninvited" creates a parallel between the mystery film of the same title and the narrator's possible pregnancy. Suitable for contemporary fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/04.]-Elaine Bender, El Camino Coll., Torrance, CA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Another slim volume from Hempel (Tumble Home, 1997, etc.), the theme this time being skewed and skewered relationships (and, yes, there are dogs in many of the stories). Most of the nine pieces involve a narrator coping with the end of a relationship. In "Jesus Is Waiting," Hempel captures the frenzy of a breakup through a narrator who embarks upon the "geographic cure": long bouts of driving along the highways while listening to the Al Green tape that the man who won't speak to her made while he still did. In "The Uninvited," the narrator is preparing to take a pregnancy test ("I was fifty years old and ten days late. If menopausal, go on estrogen; if pregnant, go on welfare"), the potential father being either her estranged husband or a fellow student who came by to pass along class notes and ended up raping her. The title story begins on the last night of a marriage, at the ballet, and follows the narrator through the comforts she gains by training dogs for the blind. In "Beach Time," the narrator lives next door to careless summer renters who toss their empty Coronas (limes still inside) over the privet hedge and are heedless of the fact that sound carries over water. Their marriage falls apart within her earshot, while she worries because they're not watering her neighbor's orchids. Of questionable value are "Memoir," a single-sentence short-short that doesn't carry the wit or weight of a run-of-the-mill one-liner, and "Reference #388475848-5," a rant to the New York City Parking Violations Bureau. But then there's "Offertory," a longer piece about a young woman who tells her lover erotic stories from a past affair with a married man and woman, a meditation on storytelling and sexthat is stunning in its overall effect. Sketchy, in all, with moments of the breathtaking language that characterizes Hempel's best work. Agent: Liz Darhansoff/Darhansoff, Verrill, Feldman

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Beach Town

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.

Copyright © 2005 by Amy Hempel

Meet the Author

Amy Hempel is the author of Tumble Home, Reasons to Live, and At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom, and the coeditor of Unleashed. Her stories have appeared in Elle, GQ, Harper's, Playboy, The Quarterly, and Vanity Fair. She teaches in the Graduate Writing Program at Bennington College and lives in New York City.

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