‘Sing to It’ by Amy Hempel

I’m compensating for having two novellas in this list by now including Amy Hempel’s one hundred-and-seventeen-word (I just counted them) title opener to her most recent collection. I could have chosen anything from Sing to It, because I think it is one of the great books of literature of our time, but I’m including the first story because it is a barnstormer of an opening track, like ‘The Thrill of It All’ or ‘The Queen is Dead’. It blasts you into the stratosphere. For its brevity, it is epic. I discuss this story often with students in my creative writing class at Cardiff University, and rarely do we get the same interpretation twice in one room. The literature takes place in the reader. And as for our theme of short stories tackling big subjects, ‘Sing to It’ is about death, but also death as the ultimate metaphor for life, and the fact the story is itself a metaphor while essentially just being a foggy account of a conversations about metaphors. I’m telling you; it has layers. And how else can you talk about death without veering off to the elegiac and the magical? Where the story ends is in transcendence. Hempel is a precious mind.

Published in Sing to It, Scribner, 2019. Available to read on Lithub, here

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