‘Tom-Rock Through The Eels’ by Amy Hempel

Tom-Rock Through The Eels by Amy Hempel, 1990

The magic trick:

Listing memories of her friend’s mothers but very few about her own

This story is most notable for its laundry list of mothers. As she considers the death of her mother and the grief of her grandmother, the narrator recalls all of her childhood friends’ mothers. She thinks of different memories for each – maybe something they said or a characteristic quirk. These nuggets do a remarkable job of letting the reader picture each woman.

Of course it’s telling that we have all of those and not much of anything resembling a picture of the narrator’s mother. There’s a profound sense of loss in the narrator, but not a memory of what is missing. And that’s quite a trick on Hempel’s part.

The selection:

When my grandmother calls, it is after the fact. She doesn’t talk about a thing until it is done.

“Darling, can you help me?” my grandmother says. “Help me remember the good times with your mother?”

My mother said, “What?”

I said, “I forgot. I forgot what I was going to say.”

“Then it must have been a lie,” my mother said.

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