‘Rapture Of The Deep’ by Amy Hempel

Rapture Of The Deep by Amy Hempel, 1987

The magic trick:

Jarring the narrative near the end with a sudden piece of backstory from the narrator

We begin a full week of razor-sharp sadness and fear in the form of stories from Amy Hempel’s stunningly good collection, At The Gates Of The Animal Kingdom.

“Rapture” focuses on Miss Locey’s predicament. And it’s a little odd. It’s Halloween night. She’s stuck in bed with an injury, and she’s hired our narrator to hand out candy. Did I mention that it’s a little odd?

So we know virtually nothing about a narrator. We’re too busy worried about Miss Locey and her rings. Very suddenly this changes.

Out of nowhere, the narrator tells an incredibly personal story of incredible loss. It’s jarring for the reader. Maybe even more jarring is the way it affects the narrative – it effectively shuts down the story, leaving the reader struggling to process. And that’s quite a trick on Hempel’s part.

The selection:

Then I told Miss Locey the name for what had happened, what the thing that happened diving was called, that divers called it “rapture of the deep.” And she said what I had always thought, which is that it’s odd – it’s eerie – when a bad thing has a pretty name.

She said it herself. She said, “Rapture of the deep.” She said it sounded to her “like a dive into Liberace’s coat, staying under too long, and come up coughing up rubies and pearls.”

She twisted her rings.

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