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Al Jolson

When reading this short story I was largely reminded of John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars,” a story in which boy meets girl but boy and girl are both terminally ill. But it seems in Hempel’s stories the reader is introduced to a new kind of love story. In her other stories, “Dog of the Marriage,” and “Nashville Gone to Ashes,” a greater love grows from the love that is given to the pets, a love that is lost. The tone of her story “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried,” is one that is full of humor; even the ice cream they eat toward the end of the story is Good Humor. But it’s a kind of laughter that brought me closer to tears than happiness. Her sentence structure is so simple but so full of detail, so much so that it seems too easy to miss something crucial. I was particularly struck by the story about the man who was in a car wreck “on 101 going south,” (pg. 31). She mentions that the sight of his arm scared him to death, a sort of thought that made me pause. Dying of fear is such an incredibly horrible way to go. The way that Hempel goes about revealing, or hiding, the girl’s cancer is somewhat incredible in my mind. The reader is left to discover if she is actually plagued with cancer or some other terminal illness, but with the mentioning of her wig, she confirms a diagnosis. The secret of her illness seemed to add another dimension of sadness to the story — we’re not certain if she has cancer, but we’re also uncertain as to how old she is or how much longer she has to live. But the humor in the story continues with her burial next to famous entertainer Al Jolson. The endless distractions in the story, the random storytelling and the meaningless facts are essential to the meaning of the story. I would have shed tears if there hadn’t been an element to the story that helped me to forget the underlying sadness. In the final sentence she mentions the language of grief. I have learned that each individual processes and copes with grief differently, whether eat be through binge eating, exercising, or through humor.

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