In addition, critics praise Hempel for her poetic use of imagery and concise language that creates a short story filled with meaning. Hempel has compressed the narrative until every unnecessary and distracting detail has been squeezed out. Author Biography Born December 14, , in Chicago, Illinois, Amy Hempel moved to San Francisco as a teenager and attended several California colleges during an academic career that saw frequent interruptions. Deciding to become a writer, she settled in New York City and attended Columbia University where her creative writing instructor was Gordon Lish, a noted novelist, short story writer, and editor. Hempel credits Lish with having had a special influence on her work. She also names other contemporary short story writers such as Mary Robison and Raymond Carver as having affected her style.
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The narrator recalls her one and only hospital visit to her best friend, who was dying. Why has it taken her so long to make this visit? Because she is afraid. When she arrives, her friend is wearing a surgical mask, and so must she. They talk about inconsequential things, bantering, but then her friend says that there "is a real and present need here. Now, however, it is not a question of "if" but only of "when. The narrator knows it is meant for her, so that she can keep vigil.
Both women take a nap, but on awakening, the narrator says, "I have to go home. The friends confront imminent death and loss in the tone that has characterized their relationship since college days, which seem not to be very far behind them. Al Jolson is buried in the cemetery where the dying girl will be buried; his blackface mask may symbolize the "show" that everyone, including the doctors, is putting on. Underneath the banter, underneath the surgical masks, is grief laden with fear.
The dying friend, who has always been fearless, is afraid to die alone. The narrator must rescue herself by not staying to watch--or actively help--her friend die. Indeed, the narrator views her friend as already dead "she was moved to the cemetery" , so what is the point? Another form of rescue, and expiation of guilt, is in the "retelling" of these events, to which the narration draws attention by switching back and forth from the past to the present tense.
Storytelling provides options for different behaviors, and provides explanations. Primary Source.
In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried
The narrator recalls her one and only hospital visit to her best friend, who was dying. Why has it taken her so long to make this visit? Because she is afraid. When she arrives, her friend is wearing a surgical mask, and so must she. They talk about inconsequential things, bantering, but then her friend says that there "is a real and present need here.
I told her insects fly through rain, missing every drop, never getting wet. I told her no one in America owned a tape recorder before Bing Crosby did. The camera made me self-conscious and I stopped. It was trained on us from a ceiling mount—the kind of camera banks use to photograph robbers. It played us to the nurses down the hall in Intensive Care. I went on. Did she know that Tammy Wynette had changed her tune?