Friday, December 23, 2016

Tumble Home: A Novella and Short StoriesTumble Home: A Novella and Short Stories by Amy Hempel
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"This is what happens to me. I start out being myself, and end up being my mother."

A big disappointment! I liked Amy Hempel's set At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom , which - in addition to unremarkable pieces - has three or four memorable stories. Unfortunately I find every story included in Tumble Home (1997) quite unexceptional and the cover blurb that says "Tumble Home is a tour de force" is a misleading statement.

Tumble contains seven short stories - one of them extremely short - and the title novella of about 85 pages. The stories are well-observed slices of life, but there is nothing compelling there, no focal points to hold the readers' attention; they are well-written bagatelles disappointing in their averageness. The microscopic story titled Housewife - it contains only a single sentence! - is particularly feeble: the sentence does not convey any deeper truths nor does it evoke any strong feeling. I love the microscopic story, In the Animal Shelter, from the At the Gates set, which - in just four sentences - tells us a lot about the lives of humans and animals and demonstrates Ms. Hempel's talent. This "story" is just pretentious in its hyperbrevity.

The novella is narrated by a woman, a voluntary patient in a mental institution, who is writing a letter to a famous painter. Although she had met the man just once she uses him as a crutch to help her handle personal problems. As many of the so-called mental patients she is not mentally ill in any way; she just is unable to face the world and cope with the real life. When she was a child her mother committed suicide and now she is one of those millions of people, unloved and unneeded by their parents, whose lives have been damaged and often completely destroyed by their wasted childhood.

I like the novella more than the other stories: it convincingly portrays the maladjusted person's slightly askew view of the outside world and their unconventionally structured thinking with the characteristic jumps in logic and non sequiturs:
"Do you find consolation in a person? In a woman? I found it once with a man, but I lost my combs."
There are a few memorable sentences other than the epigraph quote, for instance:
"A sign of getting better: without getting larger, we seem to take up more room in a room."
Yet overall - despite the insightful and well-written novella - the set has little to offer to a reader and the pretentious shortest story is a laughable effort.

Two stars.

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