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“The Harvest” (thoughts)

January 23, 2009

shotsofshortBack in high school, when I first got sick and no one knew what was wrong and I couldn’t leave the house for months on end and the school district sent a tutor out so I could still get school credit, I began drawing up reading lists. Oh yes-if blogging had been big in 2001, you could have been privy to all kinds of ‘self-improvement’ moments. And one of those lists focused on short story collections. I’m not sure how I created that list, but I ended up reading some incredible collections: Interpreter of Maladies, Little Black Book of Stories, A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain-books I’d still recommend to someone just testing the short story waters. And another collection: Reasons to Live by Amy Hempel. I can still tell you all about my two favourite stories (“Nashville Gone to Ashes” and “Beg, Sl Tog, Inc, Cont, Rep“), and the perfectly delicate way Hempel explored powerful emotions.

So of course when I was drawing up my list of stories for the 100 Shots challenge, I had to include her on the list! I went with “The Harvest”, since it was available online, and I just read it last night. It turns out Hempel is just as magnificent a short story writer as I remember. She’s a master of the opening sentence:

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

And even more importantly, she’s so good at portraying people’s inner, emotional existence. Here are the next three sentences:

The man was not hurt when the other car hit ours. The man I had known for one week held me in the street in a way that meant I couldn’t see my legs. I remember knowing that I shouldn’t look, and knowing that I would look if it wasn’t that I couldn’t.

That whole ‘knowing that you shouldn’t look’ thing with accidents is just so pitch perfect; last Christmas, I was making falafel with my wonderful KitchenAid Immersion Blender and due to a dumb move, I managed to immersion blend the tip of my left middle finger. And even as I whirled around and began running it under cold water, I just kept thinking to myself ‘don’t look, don’t look, don’t look.’ (My finger actually healed perfectly-I didn’t even go to the hospital-and the scar line is so thin I have to squint to notice it).

Wow-I think this might one of those rambling, random reviews. So, back to “The Harvest.” The first half of the story is about the girl’s experiences after the accident, in the hospital. And then, then Hempel does the magical thing that takes this from a nice little story to something awesome. The narrator suddenly takes a step back and tells us:

I leave a lot out when I tell the truth. The same when I write a story. I’m going to start now to tell you what I have left out of “The Harvest,” and maybe begin to wonder why I had to leave it out.

And she goes through the story we just read, essentially annotating it. It’s a style device that in other hands might be feel too pat or artsy, but Hempel makes it seem perfectly natural, not as if she’s writing metafiction that examines the nature of truth and storytelling, but as if a girl is just talking about recovering from an accident. It’s so awesome, and you should go read it right now.

When I was part of BookMooch, I always had Amy Hempel’s Collected Stories on my wishlist, but it never quite came up. So I think it’s about time I read another of her collections, probably her sophomoric effort At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom, which this story is a part of. And if you haven’t read Hempel, you’re missing out. If you think short stories aren’t for you, do me a favour and give “The Harvest” a shot.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. January 23, 2009 10:31 am

    You totally sold me on the story…I’m off to read it immediately. But I’m shuddering over the thought of your poor finger!

  2. January 23, 2009 10:46 am

    Just had to pop back and thank you! That story was incredible! And I’m definitely picking up one of her collections.

  3. January 23, 2009 11:26 am

    Sounds great! I’m adding her to my list, too! (And I love when you ramble in your reviews. It makes me giggle!)


  4. January 23, 2009 6:17 pm

    I’ve add Reasons to Live to my “short story collections to read” list. I’m already planning on reading Robert Olin Butler’s this year too! Thanks for the recommendation.

    You said “When I was a part of bookmooch”. Why no longer? Just curious.

  5. January 23, 2009 8:06 pm

    You’ve made a believer out of me! I’m getting the book. Thanks!

  6. alirambles permalink
    January 24, 2009 12:37 am

    Great review, and I put a hold on her short story collection at the library. Sounds like a great one. Thank you!

  7. adevotedreader permalink
    January 24, 2009 2:29 am

    I love short shorties, including those in The Interpreter of Maladies and The Little Black Book of Stories so will look out for Amy Hempel.

    Your blender story made me wince in sympathy- I had the same thing happen with a blender on Christmas Day and had to get stitches which created quite a drama!

  8. January 24, 2009 7:39 am

    Sounds good. I’m off to read it!

  9. January 24, 2009 7:41 am

    Debi, yeah-the finger was pretty awful, lol-I went into total shock. And I’m so glad you enjoyed the story!

    Lezlie, lol-it’s always the reviews I write when I’m tired that end up rambly. I’m like that in person too. ;)

    Rebecca, they’re both great collections! I cut myself off from bookmooch beacuse I mooched over 100 in less than a year, and my TBR case is out of control. It’s not anything against bookmooch-I think it’s an awesome site. :D

    Vasilly, great!

    Ali, I’m so glad you’re going to try her out. :)

    A Devoted Reader, I didn’t have health insurance at the time, so I kept repeating “I am NOT going to the hospital, I am NOT going to the hospital,” lol. If it had been a regular blender, I’m sure I would have had to go anyway!

  10. January 24, 2009 7:59 am

    I’m getting where I have started to seek out short stories…I just appreciate them so much more now that I’m older.

    I’m going to have to check these out! (And Bookmooch rarely has the books on our lists, eh? I’m just about done with them!)

  11. January 25, 2009 8:50 am

    I will definitely try “The Harvest.” I’ve wanted to read Hempel for a while now, so this is the perfect opportunity!

  12. January 27, 2009 11:02 pm

    Michele, I haven’t been on bookmooch for a long time, but I had good luck back then. :)

    Andi, yay!

  13. February 8, 2009 5:07 pm

    I saved this when I read your post, and finally got around to reading The Harvest. It is wonderfully written. Thanks for recommending it!

  14. Chloe Frost permalink
    April 4, 2012 6:33 am

    I just read this Yesterday, and then came upon this today. Do you know somewhere with a in-depth analysis of the story?

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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