In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried Summary

Amy Hempel


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The unnamed narrator, a young woman in her twenties, has come to visit her former college roommate, who is dying in a Los Angeles hospital. The friend asks the narrator to tell her useless stuff that she will not mind forgetting. Much of the story thus consists of meaningless bits of trivia told by the narrator; for example, that insects can fly through rain without getting wet and that no one owned a tape recorder in the United States before Bing Crosby did. The narrator also tells her friend that when scientists taught the first chimp to talk, it lied, and about a “hearing-ear dog” who wakes up a deaf mother and drags her into her daughter’s room because the child has a flashlight and is reading under the covers.

When the doctor enters the hospital room, the narrator goes to the beach, a few miles west of the hospital, where she recalls being afraid of earthquakes and flying—neither of which her friend feared—when they were college roommates. However, she knows that her friend is now afraid and that she will not try to talk her out of her fears, for she feels her friend has a right to be afraid. When she returns to the hospital, she finds a second bed in the room and knows that her friend expects her to stay; she thinks that the friend wants every minute: “She wants my life.” The narrator continues to joke with her dying friend, reading her a story from the newspaper about a man who robbed a bank in Mexico City by pointing a brown paper...

(The entire section is 533 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

The story opens with the unnamed narrator visiting her friend, who is also unnamed, in a hospital near Hollywood, California, where the...

(The entire section is 633 words.)