If you’re Amy Hempel, you can get away with a book that’s only 130 pages long. Not that it wasn’t satisfying, and an engaging, thought-provoking read, but it’s a slight book. I don’t think Hempel would be offended if I compared this collection to the small collections of Grace Paley. The language is spare, although there’s more sex here than you usually get in Paley, and all the stories share a first person narrator who is unnamed and consistent, much like Paley’s narrator (usually named Faith). This narrator, too, is dealing with a broken marriage and sometimes with an ex-husband, and with dogs instead of children but there doesn’t seem to be much difference in how the narrator relates to them.
My favorite story in the collection is the title story, “The Dog of the Marriage,” from which I heard Hempel read delightfully at Bread Loaf this year.
On the last night of the marriage, my husband and I went to the ballet. We sat behind a blind man; his guide dog, in harness, lay beside him in the aisle of the theater. I could not keep my attention on the performance; instead, I watched the guide dog watch the performance. Throughout the evening, the dog’s head moved, following the dancers across the stage. Every so often the dog would whimper slightly. “Because he can hear high notes we can’t?” my husband said. “No,” I said, “because he was disappointed in the choreography.”
I also have to mention Savoy, Hempel’s black Lab who accompanied her to Bread Loaf. One day I took a walk across a wide field on my way to the river, and caught up to Hempel and Savoy. She’s elderly (Savoy, I mean), but just as friendly as my Bhikku.