“All the tawdry details I’m dying for are in these stories, but they’re given out like old sweaters—without shame, without guile. Amy Hempel is the writer whomakes me feel most affiliated with other humans; we are all living this way—hiding, alone, obsessed—and that’s ok.” —Miranda July
From legendary writer Amy Hempel, one of the most celebrated and original voices in American short fiction: a ravishing, sometimes heartbreaking new story collection—her first in over a decade.
Sing to It – Amy Hempel is a master of the short story. A multiple award winner, Hempel is highly regarded among writers, reviewers, and readers of contemporary fiction. This new collection, her first since her Collected Stories published more than a decade ago, is a literary event.
These fifteen exquisitely honed stories reveal Hempel at her most compassionate and spirited, as she introduces characters, lonely and adrift, searching for connection. In “A Full-Service Shelter,” a volunteer at a dog shelter tirelessly, devotedly cares for dogs on a list to be euthanized. In “Greed,” a spurned wife examines her husband’s affair with a glamorous, older married woman. And in “Cloudland,” the longest story in the collection, a woman reckons with the choice she made as a teenager to give up her newborn infant. Quietly dazzling, these stories are replete with moments of revelation and transcendence and with Hempel’s singular, startling, inimitable sentences.
Table of Contents
Book Review by Kevin Jones
This was a beautiful, sparingly rendered collection of 15 short stories that varied in length from a few paragraphs to a novella. Most lacked a traditional narrative and dropped you into the middle of something. For me, figuring out that something meant rereading some of the stories a few times to move past what was being said to try to understand the significance of what was left out. I liked the challenge and often felt like I was reading good poetry.
At their best, what emerged for me from stories like “Sing To It,” “The Chicane,” “Greed,” “A Full-Service Shelter,” and “Cloudland” we’re a few sharp moments focused by reflections on mortality from vulnerable characters. While admittedly a heavy undertaking and not the most uplifting subject matter, the sparse, finely honed writing easily puts this in my top three best books I’ve read so far in 2019.
“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
“Turning the pages [in Sing to It] is like swimming in a lake and suddenly finding the bottom drop out beneath you, leaving you to get your bearings amid unanticipated depths.”
–Ruth Franklin, The Atlantic
“It’s astonishing that Hempel can pack so much emotion into so few words. . . . There’s not a story in Sing to It that’s less than brilliant, and the collection itself is even greater than the sum of its parts. Hempel occasionally draws comparisons to authors like Mary Robison and Joy Williams, but she writes like nobody else — she’s an irreplaceable literary treasure who has mastered the art of the short story more skillfully than just about any other writer out there. Sing to It is a quiet masterpiece by a true American original.”
“[Amy Hempel is] an essential voice in contemporary American short fiction… [Sing to It] offers Hempel at her best: oscillating between hilarity and pain in a way that feels utterly human.”
“Scintillating as the blade of a knife. . . . The verisimilar quality of this storytelling is powerful. Ms. Hempel’s stories compel us to re-reading in much the same way we review (or re-read) interactions in everyday life, attempting to piece together what really happened, what was actually being said. . . . When there is a shock, a crisis, a scene of horror, Ms. Hempel sings to it, and the result is an exquisite collection by a master of the genre.”
–The Wall Street Journal
“Gorgeously distilled, archly witty, and daringly empathetic tales…Hempel is a master miniaturist, capturing in exquisitely nuanced sentences the sensuous, cerebral, and spiritual cascade of existence, homing in on pain and humor and the wisdom each can engender.”
“Short story virtuoso Hempel’s first collection since 2006 consists of 15 characteristically bold, disconcerting, knockout stories that highlight her signature style with its condensed prose, quirky narrators, and touching, disturbing, transcendent moments.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A dizzying array of short fiction…Hempel packs a lot into her narrow spaces: nuance, longing, love, and loss. The brilliance of the writing resides in the way Hempel manages to tell us everything in spite of her narrator’s reticence, teaching us to read between the lines.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“[Hempel’s] stories . . . burrow inside you, dogging your thoughts for days. . . . Hempel has both a better feel for the vicissitudes of the world and a better imagination than you do.”
–Cory Oldweiler, amNY
“Attention short story fans: Amy Hempel is back with her first collection of short stories in over a decade. Some are just a page long and others are like small novellas, but they’re all astonishingly rhythmic and textured.”
“Hempel packs a great deal into the briefest of fictions, creating balanced and nuanced stories
of longing, love and loss.”
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About the Author
Amy Hempel is the author of Sing to It, The Dog of the Marriage, Tumble Home, At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom, Reasons to Live, and the coeditor of Unleashed. Her stories have appeared in Harper’s, Vanity Fair, GQ, Tin House, The Harvard Review, The Quarterly, and have been widely anthologized, including Best American Short Stories and The Best Nonrequired Reading. She teaches in the Graduate Writing Program at Bennington College, and at Stony Brook Southampton. She lives near New York City.
Originally published: 26 March 2019
Genre: Literary fiction