Franklin Park gets crowded, especially when a big name shows up to the reading series there, but I’ve never seen it as packed as it was last night. Short-fiction master Amy Hempel headlined yesterday’s reading, attracting an absurd capacity-crowd that packed the bar as tightly as though it’d been vacuum sealed, with excess spilling out into the front courtyard. She didn’t disappoint, reading, for about 20 minutes, a few of her own stories and even a sentence she didn’t write but wished she did from another writer’s upcoming novel.
“A lot of my work features dogs,” she said, thanking series-organizer Penina Roth for mentioning in Hempel’s introduction that the author works with the Deja Foundation, a pit-bull rescue organization. The last story she read wasn’t dog-centered, but it did have a curious back story: a year ago yesterday, Hempel had fallen in a Connecticut shopping plaza, for some reason not putting her hands out in front of her and so smacking her face directly into the pavement. She went to the doctor and got an MRI, which reminded her of an old piece of wisdom: if you get an MRI, they’ll find something wrong. Sure enough, the MRI came back and the doctor showed it to her, pointing out several white spots all along her brain. “He made me count them with him, and said, ‘those aren’t supposed to be there.'” Were they a problem? Or had they always been there? He didn’t know.
But the point of the story wasn’t Hempel’s health, which presumably is fine. It’s that afterward she was struck by the experience because it seemed so familiar, and then she finally remembered that it was similar to a story she had once written about a woman who attends an art lecture before a doctor’s appointment, where an x-ray reveals she has cancer. “It’s called,” she said, pausing, opening her book, “‘What Were the White Things?'”
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