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“In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried” originally appeared in TriQuarterly magazine in It was reprinted in Editors’ Choice: New American Stories. Annotations of “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried”. NC. Nicholas Cato. Updated 27 March Transcript. And fear Mirror Theory: Mirrors allow us to . “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried” is a short fiction story by author Amy Hempel. It was first published in TriQuarterly magazine in , reprinted in.

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Retrieved December 31, from Encyclopedia. Originally published in TriQuarterly. While paying a long-overdue visit to a dying friend in the hospital, the narrator muses about her shame and guilt in neglecting a friend in need. There are no truths, there is no meaning to life, there is only death at the end, so what could possibly matter? Deciding to become a writer, she settled in New York City and attended Columbia University where her creative writing instructor was Gordon Lish, a noted novelist, short story writer, and editor.

Limbo seems like the only honest place to be in these stories.

In the Cemetery where Al Jolson is Buried by Amy Hempel | Short Story Recommendation

Now, however, it is not a question of “if” but only of “when. Her stories have been translated into twelve languages and anthologized in the United States and several other countries. Their communication remains superficial; it would be too dangerous otherwise.

The narrator in this story has not been able to bring herself ls visit her best friend in the hospital for two months; her fear has been stronger than her sense of decency. A subtle universality of feeling infuses the more fully realized stories, transcending the cliche— or forcing it to underscore and serve a greater truth. Two months, and how long is the drive? The most loathsome moment in the story comes at the end when she tells the story of the birth of a baby to that other liar, the talking chimp.


The friend throws a fit upon realizing the narrator is leaving, yanking off her jolsoh mask and running out of the room.

“In the Cemetery where Al Jolson is Buried”

The story opens with the unnamed narrator visiting her friend, who is also unnamed, in a hospital near Hollywood, California, where the friend is dying, presumably of cancer. The chimp used sign language to communicate with its rhe. Just as the mother chimp continues to sign to her dead baby, the narrator continues her reliance on trivia after the friend dies. She also observed that many dying patients, after the shock of learning their condition, go through five psychological stages: In discussing her sparse, minimalist style, critics often pointed to details in the story like the metaphor of a Hollywood set as the forum for a discussion on death.

Some of the one-page pieces in Reasons to Live are so truncated and incomplete they are interesting only as snapshots.

We believe in her fear, her love of life, and her psychological fragility. This psychological stage, which is usually brief, is followed by the first true recognition of reality, and the patient then enters the stage of grief or depression, mourning the loss of his jolsonn her own life.

The substitution here of trivia for what is real renders the story the ideal minimalist marriage of form and content: Print this article Print all entries for this topic Cite this article. By telling her story anonymously, the narrator is able to relate details that she might otherwise hesitate to reveal.


Igoni Barrett, Belle Boggs, A. Even though the tale does not pertain directly to her dying friend, it symbolizes how obsessed with death the narrator is. However, since many i view the minimalist style as outdated, this has put an unfavorable spin on her work. Hempel is the author of two collections of short stories: And who is there that can say that I did not?


Learn more about citation styles Citation styles Encyclopedia. The danger manifests itself as a detachment from the world of human connection. It takes me fifty-five minutes to drive one way, and I wish the commute were longer.

The writing here is terse; much is left out. Suntan oil and sand and surgical masks and oxygen tubes exist all in the same world, and part of the maturation process is understanding how this can be so. New story recommendations from this week. The alternately wise and wise cracking narrators provide ironic commentary, letting us in on the action and on a store of little-known facts: For questions or comments, contact us.

Most of the stories in Reasons to Live open after a crisis to find the narrator standing, shell-shocked, amidst the rubble of her life. And who is there that can say I did not? Sometimes a vignette is just a vignette, a sketch a sketch.

The doctor enters the hospital room and the friend flirts jooson him. The friend is interested in hearing about the first chimp that was trained to talk until the narrator warns her that the outcome is sad, at which point the friend commands her to stop the story. Some of them seem merely to be cemeteery designed to transport us to the oracular punchline, but fail to lend it resonance along the way.

She quotes from graffiti and from a newspaper trivia column, and the odd mixture is full of half-truths, exaggerations and outright lies.