Another slim volume from Hempel (Tumble Home, 1997, etc.), the theme this time being skewed and skewered relationships (and, yes, there are dogs in many of the stories).
Most of the nine pieces involve a narrator coping with the end of a relationship. In “Jesus Is Waiting,” Hempel captures the frenzy of a breakup through a narrator who embarks upon the “geographic cure”: long bouts of driving along the highways while listening to the Al Green tape that the man who won’t speak to her made while he still did. In “The Uninvited,” the narrator is preparing to take a pregnancy test (“I was fifty years old and ten days late. If menopausal, go on estrogen; if pregnant, go on welfare”), the potential father being either her estranged husband or a fellow student who came by to pass along class notes and ended up raping her. The title story begins on the last night of a marriage, at the ballet, and follows the narrator through the comforts she gains by training dogs for the blind. In “Beach Time,” the narrator lives next door to careless summer renters who toss their empty Coronas (limes still inside) over the privet hedge and are heedless of the fact that sound carries over water. Their marriage falls apart within her earshot, while she worries because they’re not watering her neighbor’s orchids. Of questionable value are “Memoir,” a single-sentence short-short that doesn’t carry the wit or weight of a run-of-the-mill one-liner, and “Reference #388475848-5,” a rant to the New York City Parking Violations Bureau. But then there’s “Offertory,” a longer piece about a young woman who tells her lover erotic stories from a past affair with a married man and woman, a meditation on storytelling and sex that is stunning in its overall effect.
Sketchy, in all, with moments of the breathtaking language that characterizes Hempel’s best work.