I told her insects fly through rain, missing every drop, never getting wet. I told her no one in America owned a tape recorder before Bing Crosby did. The camera made me self-conscious and I stopped. It was trained on us from a ceiling mount—the kind of camera banks use to photograph robbers.
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Grief, of course. One is avoidance, akin to denial, which the two friends demonstrate through the near manic level of joking they engage in. And it took her two months for the narrator to visit her friend, as she did not want to see her in this state, of course. And when the doctor tells her to get out of the room in the hospital, she jumps at the chance to go across the road to the beach, to watch young, lean, healthy bodies tanning and lusting in the sun.
She returns to extend the avoidance through joking around: "Did you know that when they taught the first chimp to talk, it lied? That when they asked her who did it on the desk, she signed back the name of the janitor. And that when they pressed her, she said she was sorry, that it was really the project director.
But she was a mother, so I guess she had her reasons. Who wants to face the death of someone we love? She gets in her car and drives, the wind in her hair; she has escaped! At the end, after her friend is buried—in the cemetery where Al Jolson is buried, and who would care about that trivial detail but someone who like us! And yet she also says, it is not a maudlin story, it is honest and human and funny and sad all at once.
In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried
The narrator recalls her one and only hospital visit to her best friend, who was dying. Why has it taken her so long to make this visit? Because she is afraid. When she arrives, her friend is wearing a surgical mask, and so must she. They talk about inconsequential things, bantering, but then her friend says that there "is a real and present need here.
In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried
In addition, critics praise Hempel for her poetic use of imagery and concise language that creates a short story filled with meaning. Hempel has compressed the narrative until every unnecessary and distracting detail has been squeezed out. Author Biography Born December 14, , in Chicago, Illinois, Amy Hempel moved to San Francisco as a teenager and attended several California colleges during an academic career that saw frequent interruptions. 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. Hempel credits Lish with having had a special influence on her work.
In The Cemetery Where Al Jolsen is Buried