By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
In The Harvest, Hempel writes, "The year I began to say vahzinstead of vase, a man I barely knew nearly accidentally killed me."
Instead of some dry age or measurement, we get the image of someone just becoming sophisticated, plus there's burnt tongue, plus she uses her "horse" of mortality.
See how these things add up?
What else you learn about minimalism includes "recording angel." This means writing without passing any judgments. Nothing is fed to the reader as fat or happy. You can only describe actions and appearances in a way that makes a judgment occur in the reader's mind. Whatever it is, you unpack it into the details that will re-assemble themselves within the reader.
Amy Hempel does this. Instead of telling us the boyfriend in The Harvestis an asshole, we see him holding a sweater soaked with his girlfriend's blood and telling her, "You'll be okay, but this sweater is ruined."
Less becomes more. Instead of the usual flood of general details, you get a slow drip of single-sentence paragraphs, each one evoking its own emotional reaction. At best, she's a lawyer who presents her case, exhibit by exhibit. One piece of evidence at a time. At worst, she's a magician, tricking people. But reading, you always take the bullet without being told it's coming.
SO, WE'VE COVERED "HORSES" AND "BURNT tongue" and "recording angel." Now, writing "on the body." Hempel shows how a story doesn't have to be some constant stream of blah-blah-blah to bully the reader into paying attention. You don't have to hold readers by both ears and ram every moment down their throats. Instead, a story can be a succession of tasty, smelly, touchable details. What Spanbauer and Lish call "going on the body," to give the reader a sympathetic physical reaction, to involve the reader on a gut level.
The only problem with Hempel's palace of fragments is quoting it. Take any piece out of context, and it loses power. The French philosopher Jacques Derrida likens writing fiction to a software code that operates in the hardware of your mind. Stringing together separate macros that, combined, will create a reaction. No fiction does this as well as Hempel's, but each story is so tight, so boiled to bare facts, that all you can do is lie on the floor, face down, and praise it.
My rule about meeting people is -- if I love their work, I don't want to risk seeing them fart or pick their teeth. Last year in New York, I did a reading at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square where I praised Hempel, telling the crowd that if she wrote enough I'd just stay home and read in bed all day. The next night, she appeared at my reading in the Village. I drank half a beer and we talked without passing gas.
Still, I kind of hope I never see her, again. But I did buy that first edition for $75.
Chuck Palahniuk is the author ofFight Club andChoke. He will read from his new book,Lullaby, at the Beverly Hills Library, 444 N. Rexford Dr., on Monday, September 23, at 7 p.m. For more information, call Book Soup at (310) 659-3110.