The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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Amy Hempel

One of the staff at Barnes & Noble, a buddy of mine with impeccable taste, recommended Amy Hempel’s The Collected Stories. She admitted she hadn’t read it, but said The New York Times had called it one of the ten best books of 2006. You can’t go wrong with a Times recommendation, she said. Boy, was I excited. I could hardly wait to drive home and read it.At home, I examined the cover, read the blubs, and noticed it was published by Scribner, a seeming rarity these days. There were three pages of praise. I read the introduction, “On Amy Hempel,” by Rick Moody, and was even more impressed.

Finally, I turned to the first story, called “In a Tub.” I read the first sentence, “My heart–I thought it stopped,” and I wondered where the funny smell was coming from? So, I read the first three paragraphs and tried to figure it out. And then I knew. It was all too obvious. The whole idea was to catch me by the throat and never let me go. Writing 101.

Just for comparison, I checked out some of the other stories, and found they had equally catchy first sentences and paragraphs. Had Amy been reading the Dummies Guide to Writing Fiction? I wondered. (Really, there is such a book on Amazon. I’m not making this up!)

Without reading another word, I put the book on top of The Savage Detectives and haven’t touched it since.

2 comments

1 S.C. { 01.10.08 at 10:55 pm }

Do you mean to tell me that you haven”t taken your copy of The Savage Detectives down to the Salvation Army yet? I dropped my copy off after slogging through the first chapter. N.Y. Time’s recommendations? Isn’t that the same newspaper that gives legitimacy to those people who abuse the language? (I refer to your post on the word fascism.)

2 Steven Alm { 01.11.08 at 6:05 pm }

Oh my god, oh my god, you express it better than I could!