0659 | Reasons to Live | Amy Hempel


A book of short stories that are very easy to read and very engaging. I would probably read this again if I came across it again. Sadly, I had no time to give this more of the minutes it deserved; I was reading through all the 1001 books I could get hold of from my library at work before I left forever just a couple of months after reading this.

One of the reasons for wanting to re-read it is her particular use of characterisation. There’s a lot more going on under the surface than it seems.

This seems astonishing when you consider that some of the stories are just 2 – 3 pages long. And yet, within that tiny span, she can, like Borges, draw you right in. However, unlike him, she never loses you or makes you feel like you don’t have a brain.

Lots of the stories have deal with loss and how we cope with that. This is the titular reasons to live. When others have died and you carry their memroies with you, it can be hard to live out each day.

The writing is quite poignant but because it’s so short both in totality and episode, it never gets as far as being moving. You never really get close enough for that. I felt like there was a bit of distance between me and those being described.

The fact that Hempel doesn’t names her protagonists adds to this. Some are almost totally anonymous and you only really get the barest details about their lives. I wonder why she felt this necessary.

Hempel has never written a full-length novel which seems a shame. I think a novel from her would be a wonderful piece of writing to savour. There’s still time for that. For now though, her little short story gems will have to do.

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