Sunday, May 17, 2015

Deal Me In, Week 20: "Today Will Be a Quiet Day" by Amy Hempel

This week the seven of clubs dealt me a story by Amy Hempel, an author with whom I was not familiar, but who is critically acclaimed for her stories. Doubtless some of my Deal Me In comrades have read some of Hempel's stuff and will chime in with their thoughts on this story. As is the case with the suit of clubs, this story came from The Best American Short Stories 1986, and it was first published in The Missouri Review.


"Today Will Be a Quiet Day" is one of those stories where you know something is going on underneath the events of the story, and the characters are trying their best to act normal, but they are not quite succeeding. The gist of the story, which is quite short, is that a father has decided to spend the day with his daughter and son on an outing. (As I understand it, none of Amy Hempel's characters have names.) There's some allusion to a friend of the son's who committed suicide a year ago, and there's no mention or evidence of a mother, but otherwise this is a family that appears normal. However, I could not shake the nagging feeling that the characters were all covering up something, perhaps something painful. I think this because each of the characters was constantly wisecracking throughout the entire story. And while this made for a very entertaining story on one level, it immediately made me think that something was wrong. The wisecracking was almost manic in its intensity and rapidity, which is often a sign of deeper problems.

Little by little things come out, traumatic things that the characters barely speak of, such as the family dog that had to be put down for biting a little girl. The daughter in the story dreams of running away and changing her name, but we don't know why. And back home after their outing (which, by the way, we also never get any real sense of why the father felt compelled to cancel his kids' music lessons and take them out for the day), the three bed down in sleeping bags in the master bedroom. Why do they all feel the need to sleep in the same room? Is the mother's absence the elephant in the room, so to speak? Lots of unanswered questions in this story. As the title suggests, today IS a quiet day, but it's quiet because of what's not being said.

Despite sounding rather ambivalent about this story, I did enjoy it, and I would like to read more of Amy Hempel's stuff.

The Deal Me In short story challenge is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.


  1. I'm not familiar with Hempel either, but it sounds like an intriguing story.

  2. Another story that's on my list! I can't wait to read it. Sounds great!

  3. Interesting choice for an author to decide that none of her characters will have names. I wonder how many times in her writing she's felt handcuffed by that "Policy." :-)

    I haven't read her either yet.