Sketchy, in all, with moments of the breathtaking language that characterizes Hempel’s best work.

READ REVIEW

THE DOG OF THE MARRIAGE

STORIES

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.

Pub Date: March 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-6451-7

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2004

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Parker’s not trying to be Dostoevsky here but rather wishes to create light and good-natured entertainment—and he succeeds.

THE COMMITTEE ON TOWN HAPPINESS

Parker zings—but oh so gently—small-town politics and the pretentious politicians who regulate our lives at the micro-level.

The Committee on Town Happiness is happy indeed to make our happy lives even happier, and to this end its members vote on a constant stream of issues reflecting their concerns. This slim novel contains almost 100 chapters, and in about two-thirds of them a vote is taken on something or other. For example, the committee passes by acclamation a testimonial that “trees demonstrate steadiness of purpose and evenness of demeanor.” When things start to heat up on a controversial topic, the committee votes 5-3 “to destroy the minutes upon adjourning” (though one wag of a committeeman wonders whether "the minutes say destroy the minutes"). The primary goal of the committee is right in its name, but the members run into an obvious dilemma: How does one quantify and measure happiness? They do their best by passing legislation meant to materially increase the well-being of the community as a whole. Such ordinances include the regulation of writing on biking jerseys: “No vulgarities may be printed in sans serif fonts on jerseys; no vulgarities may be written backwards, to be read in rear view mirrors.” When citizens start disappearing, there's concern (and the launching of hot air balloons to find them), and occasionally some slight chicanery interrupts the committee's good intentions, but the plot remains minimal.

Parker’s not trying to be Dostoevsky here but rather wishes to create light and good-natured entertainment—and he succeeds.

Pub Date: June 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-938103-80-3

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Dzanc

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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Touching, tender and true—short fiction nearly as rich and satisfying as Packer’s two fine novels (Songs Without Words,...

SWIM BACK TO ME

A novella and five stories limn with acuity and empathy the intricate negotiations and painful losses of family life.

To Richard, the 13-year-old narrator of “Walk for Mankind,” his new friend Sasha’s parents, Dan and Joanie Horowitz, seem happier and much more fun than his morose father and his well-intentioned, much-resented mother, who left her husband and son to move out to Oakland because she “needed to do something useful with my life.” But Sasha’s escapades with sex and drugs over the course of the 1972-3 school year reveal fissures in the Horowitzes’ cheerfully bohemian façade even before Dan loses his job at Stanford—and before the collection’s final story, “Things Said or Done,” revisits Sasha decades later. There, on the eve of her brother’s wedding, she copes with impossible Dan, the novella’s charming scapegrace now revealed as a terminal narcissist, and quietly seethes over the disengagement of Joanie, who long ago checked out of the drama. Families are fragile in these gently unsparing stories; the death of a child drives both “Molten,” a scarifying snapshot of raw grief, and “Her Firstborn,” the tender story of a young father-to-be haunted by the knowledge that his wife’s previous marriage was destroyed by the crib death of her 5-month-old son. It’s characteristic of Packer’s subtle artistry that “Her Firstborn” climaxes with a sentence whose emotional force derives from the insertion of a comma. Her prose is deceptively simple, her insights always complex. “Dwell Time,” another portrait of a second marriage, shows a woman realizing that her new husband has not shed all his demons with his divorce and deciding that she will try to live with them. Acknowledging the hurt and sorrow our loved ones bring us, the author never forgets to trace the joys of intimacy as well.

Touching, tender and true—short fiction nearly as rich and satisfying as Packer’s two fine novels (Songs Without Words, 2007, etc.).

Pub Date: April 15, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4000-4404-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2010

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