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

"Sing to It" by Amy Hempel is out Tuesday.
"Sing to It" by Amy Hempel is out Tuesday. Photo Credit: Danielle Levitt

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.