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Amy Hempel's 'Sing to It' full of short but powerful stories

The micro-stories will stick with you for days.

"Sing to It" by Amy Hempel is out

"Sing to It" by Amy Hempel is out Tuesday. Photo Credit: Scribner / Vicki Topaz

Amy Hempel writes ideal fiction for our fast-paced times.

Of the 15 stories in her latest story collection, “Sing to It,” more than half could be reprinted in a tweetstorm, and a handful of others are no longer than a Facebook post.

The aspirational nature of Hempel’s writing comes from the fact that, unlike social media ephemera, her stories will burrow inside you, dogging your thoughts for days.

The micro-stories often land with the force of a haiku or Zen koan. In “The Orphan Lamb,” the field dressing of a young sheep becomes a cautionary tale about losing one’s independence to desire.

Such deviations are common. A story starts in one direction and then, often with a single word, you realize that you’ve no idea where you’re heading, and Hempel has both a better feel for the vicissitudes of the world and a better imagination than you do.

One of the more moving examples is “The Second Seating,” where an early dinner at a popular restaurant reveals itself to be a memorial for a dead friend.

Hempel is a skilled stylist, whether building grand structures from spare resources or using a common rhetorical device such as anaphora, the repetition of words at the beginning of successive sentences, to hypnotic effect in “A Full-Service Shelter,” about the passion of employees at a Spanish Harlem animal shelter.

The concluding story, “Cloudland,” takes up more than a third of the volume, though it too is told via a series of short observations, with themes and storylines that circle back, slowly growing larger like a snowball rolling down a hill. It is a bleak narrative, a litany of looming environmental catastrophes and lost children and longings for home.

And in that way, too, Hempel is the right voice for our time.

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