What is the summary of San Francisco by Amy Hempel?  

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Amy Hempel's "San Francisco" opens with a question, and much of the story's action is related through questions that the younger sister of Maidy asks their deceased mother.  

An earthquake hits San Francisco while the narrator, who is the younger sister, is having lunch with her parents. Maidy,...

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Amy Hempel's "San Francisco" opens with a question, and much of the story's action is related through questions that the younger sister of Maidy asks their deceased mother.  

An earthquake hits San Francisco while the narrator, who is the younger sister, is having lunch with her parents. Maidy, the older sister, is at her psychiatrist's office. Both sisters feel and survive the earthquake, and the mother is apparently killed.

The narrator repeats a "psychiatrist joke" about Maidy and then comments that she and the mother shared the outlook that it is important to find humor in life's tragedies.  

In the aftermath of the earthquake, the mother's watch is lost. Maidy wants to know what has happened to it; she thinks that because she is the older daughter she should inherit it. The narrator chides her, points out that their mother has not been dead long, and implies that it is unseemly to be asking about it so soon. Maidy persists and even asks the narrator if she has taken the watch. 

The narrator repeats a silly pun that Maidy fails to understand and asks their mother if she remembers how easy it is to play jokes on Maidy.

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In the story "San Francisco," the narrator is the younger of two daughters who have lost their mother. Addressing her deceased mother, the narrator remarks that the tremors of the earthquake must have the caused the mother's wristwatch to have fallen off the dresser and become lost. At any rate, the narrator comments her sister Maidy would not know what happened because she was on the psychiatrist's couch. 

The narrator further tells her mother that Maidy thinks she deserves to have the watch. She questions Maidy's merit since this older sister was nowhere to be found when her mother's dead body was discovered—"Which daughter was it who found you?" asks the narrator. Then, too, Maidy has asked about their mother's watch "with the body barely cold." Maidy's excuse for this lack of feeling is her remark that it is not the body, but the "essence" that is the person. Still, Maidy continues to badger the younger sister, "Who took Mama's watch? Did you take Mama's watch?"

While the story's narrative does not stand in an emotional void as Amy Hempel is sometimes accused of having in her stories, there does seem to be a void in the sister. For she fixates on finding the mother's watch rather than being consumed with grief over her mother's death. Also, she exhibits no desire to know the reason that her mother felt the need to end her life.

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"San Francisco" is one of Amy Hempel's short stories that can be found in her collection entitled The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel.  This particular story is a wonderful attempt of a young girl to deal with grief and loss of a close family member.

We learn early on in the story that the narrator's mother has died.  The narrator continues to ask her dead mother hypothetical questions in order to deal with the grief.  There are very few things that "happen" in the story as a result.  The entire story is simply this girl's recollection of memories that connect to one particular item of her mother's:  a watch. 

In this story, then, the watch becomes a prominent symbol.  This watch helps the narrator connect her past memories of her mother (and her sister, Maidy) to the different earthquakes in San Francisco (hence the title) and, therefore, allows the narrator to remember even more about her family.  The irony here is that the narrator's mother's death is never actually mentioned and, yet, the reader knows it has happened.  She talks about "where" they were when "it" happened as well as which daughter actually "found" the body.  In this way, the mother's death becomes clear.

In a story as short as this (only three pages), it is a masterful piece of work that deals in the first person with a young girl's grief and loss of her mother through one of her mother's possessions:  a watch.

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