Hempel's third volume of precious miniatures (At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom, 1990, etc.) includes a novella that reads like an inflated version of its short, fragile companion pieces, one no more than a paragraph long. Which would be fine if that paragraph (``Housewife'') were a finely etched, poetically dense bit of prose, but it's just short and rather silly. The six other pieces, some a page or two long, are offered in support of Hempel's claim that the miraculous abides in the ordinary, which here seems to mean scenes of domesticity, full of babies, children's games, and dogs. ``Church Cancels Cow'' and ``The Annex'' both concern the narrator's house, set across the street from a cemetery, where, we learn, one can watch dogs roaming and where a headstone for a dead baby is visible from every room. Summer resorts are the settings for three vignettes: ``Weekend,'' an idyll spoiled only when the men leave for work on Monday; ``The Children's Party,'' which features a moose sighting; and ``The New Lodger,'' the narrator's return to the site of past loves. The longer ``Sportsman'' chronicles a rough patch in a marriage, which the husband deals with by heading east to stay with friends on Long Island. The title novella is an extended letter written by the narrator from a sanitarium, and reflects the bitter patter of mental patients, odd comments hinting of deeper meanings. She writes to a famous painter with whom she once had tea, and tells him about her fellow ``guests'' at the former girls' school, such as Chatty, the southern belle and telepathic healer. The narrator fills her time by walking dogs from a nearby shelter and brooding on her mother, a frustrated artist who committed suicide. These ramblings try to impress with their sensitivity to ``objects in the world,'' but come across as an accumulation of scattered bits. Tales much like the poetry Hempel quotes: imagistic with no emotional or aesthetic heft, nor even a particular sensitivity to language.
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