Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The term most applied to Hempel’s short fiction is minimalism, a technique that creates fiction that appears deceptively simple and realistic. At its best, minimalism creates a concentrated and uncluttered narrative. It also is a style that reflects the characteristics of the short story, and it is the short story that houses minimalism most often and best. Both minimalism and the short story rely heavily on figures of speech. Minimalist stories often use heavy symbolism; in this story, the odor of worms, one aspect of rotting bodies, is used to stand for the entire concept of death.

Memory, issuing from a split second of actual experience, is partly myth-making because it contains the element of desire or wishing. So it must be a dual experience to remember an event as what it was as well as what one wants to remember it as. One corrects experience according to expectation or desire. Experience occurs in three phases of time: There is only a split second of “present” in each event, the greater part is “past,” and a small part is “future” (expectation)—so what one already experiences is mostly memory even as each event occurs. The single experience is the microcosm. Life is the macrocosm of this whole thing called experience.

This same characteristic of life, experience—and this narrator’s story—all reflect the technique of minimalist fiction and the technique that is the short story, that is, the focus on the moment and the moment as past and present.