Reasons to Live

Title: Reasons to Live

Author: Amy Hempel

Publication Date: 1985

Genre: Short Story Collection

Page Length: Approximately 160 pages


“Reasons to Live” is a compelling collection of stories by Amy Hempel, showcasing her mastery of the short story form. Published in 1985, this collection spans various themes and explores the complexities of human life through unique narratives. With an academic tone, this summary aims to provide readers, particularly students, with a concise overview of the book’s plot, characters, and underlying themes.

Structured in a collection of seventeen short stories and divided into three sections, Hempel delves into the lives of her characters, presenting vignettes of their experiences, struggles, and redemption. While the stories are seemingly unrelated, they contain common motifs of loss, grief, resilience, and moments of emotional epiphany.

Section One: In Search of Self

The first section introduces the readers to the author’s unique storytelling style, characterized by concise and impactful prose. In “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried,” the protagonist is confronted with the imminent death of her friend, revealing the intertwined themes of friendship, mortality, and the fear of facing a devastating loss. “The Harvest” narrates the protagonist’s remembrance of her past and the emotional consequences of a failed romantic relationship. These stories set the tone for the subsequent sections as they grapple with existential questions and explore the fragility of human connections.

Section Two: Fear and Finding Solace

The second section delves into themes of fear, vulnerability, and the quest for solace. In “Today Will Be a Quiet Day,” a father struggles to overcome his own internal anxiety while taking care of his two children. The story presents a candid exploration of the complexities of parenthood and the fear of losing control. “The Man in Bogota” highlights human resilience amidst crisis as the protagonist learns to cope with fear through the adoption of rituals.

Section Three: Redemption and Hope

The final section offers stories of redemption, often derived from moments of profound realization. In “Going,” the protagonist witnesses an event that challenges her beliefs and prompts a reevaluation of her own life choices. “The Most Girl Part of You” explores the aftermath of trauma and the possibility of finding healing through friendship. The concluding story, “Reasons to Live,” exemplifies the overall theme of the collection, emphasizing the power of resilience and the ability to find hope amidst despair.


While the collection encompasses various characters, each story primarily focuses on the experiences of the individual protagonist. Hempel’s narrative style succinctly captures their struggles, doubts, and eventual growth.


“Reasons to Live” is marked by themes that resonate throughout the human experience. The collection offers a poignant exploration of grief, loss, and the ways individuals cope with emotional upheaval. Additionally, it delves into the complexities of human relationships, examining themes of friendship, love, and the impact of trauma on the self. Throughout the collection, Hempel displays the tenacity of the human spirit, along with the potential for redemption and hope.


Amy Hempel’s “Reasons to Live” remains highly regarded for its innovative approach to storytelling and its ability to evoke emotional responses in readers. The collection’s exploration of universal themes enables students to engage with complex human experiences, fostering empathy and critical thinking. Through her concise prose, Hempel shows the power of brevity and the impact that a few choice words can have on the reader.

In conclusion, “Reasons to Live” is a significant collection of short stories that examines the intricacies of human existence. Hempel’s ability to craft compelling narratives and evoke powerful emotions demonstrates her skill as a writer. This summary has provided a factual and concise overview of the book, including its plot structure, thematic elements, and overall significance.