Salute Your Shorts! "The Harvest," by Amy Hempel

While Amy Hempel is considered a quintessential minimalist writer (she came out from the umbrella of Gordon Lish and Raymond Carver), this short story, probably her most famous, is more of a post-modern reflection on the nature of stories and story-telling. (Go ahead and read it here, then come back).

I can't remember how I came across her, but it seems a lot of people discover her thanks to Chuck Palahniuk, who wrote this loving essay in praise of Ms. Hempel. While I am not quite as inclined to gush as Mr. Palahniuk, I did enjoy the story. It's one of very few short stories that made me want to reread it immediately after the first run through.

"The year I began to say vahz instead of vase, a man I barely knew nearly accidentally killed me."

This is the first and last true statement in the story, as far as we can tell. It's a hell of an introductory sentence, conveying tons of descriptive detail about the narrator without stating it outright. What happens in the short story is that the narrator tells one story, full of embellishment, and then tells the second, 'real' story.

From the start, Hempel draws attention to the subterfuge that all storytellers use, not just writers:

"What happened to one of my legs required four hundred stitches, which, when I told it, became five hundred stitches, because nothing is ever quite as bad as it could be.

The five days they didn’t know if they could save my leg or not I stretched to ten."

I know that everything I've stated so far might give you the impression that it's quite a gimmicky little tale. But it isn't. Even though she's stated upfront that the story is not entirely true, the strength of detail draws you in anyway; we, the reader, are complicit in Hempel's deception. Every line is loaded with meaning and genuine depth of feeling. Even if the details are wrong, the emotions are real.
And that's what's important.

This entry was posted on and is filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 . You can leave a response .

Leave a Reply

Powered by Blogger.