Chuck Palahniuk predicts that reading Amy Hempel will ruin you for just about any other book you’ll read:
At first, [Hempel’s short story] The Harvest looks like a laundry list of details. You have no idea why you’re almost weeping by the end of seven pages. You’re a little confused and disoriented. It’s just a simple list of facts presented in the first person, but somehow it adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Most of the facts are funny as hell, but at the last moment, when you’re disarmed by laughter, it breaks your heart.
She breaks your heart. First and foremost. That evil Amy Hempel. That’s the first bit Spanbauer teaches you: A good story should make you laugh, and a moment later, break your heart. The last bit is: You will never write this well. You won’t learn this part until you’ve ruined a lot of paper, wasting your free time with a pen in one hand for years and years. At any horrible moment, you might pick up a copy of Hempel and find your best work is just a cheap rip-off of her worst.
(Via Pia Z. Ehrhardt, whose new weblog is up and running right now.)