In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried," in particular, has quickly become one of a few seminal objects in my ways of thinking about the short story. It is a shepherd of an entire genre of hospital humor, and I mean this as much in tone, in attesting to the gravity of a situation, as I do in content.
Amy Hempel has an ear tuned to what it means to be dolefully aware of a situation’s consequence, yet equally aware of ones powerlessness in the face of that consequence. To the universal fear that there is more we can offer a person than our "presence." The narrator, in coming to terms with her best friend’s death, struggles with her perceived responsibility to offer whatever grand or sincere gesture seems required of a person in such a position.
Amy Hempel deals with this struggle brutally. The story hums with a certain background noise to the reality which neither woman ever acknowledges. The story, as drawn out of the two women's relationship, operates on a medium of humor, a shielding humor, the sort that comes when we find ourselves confusing humor with composure." — Jonah Vorspan-Stein, award winning fiction writer at UMass-Amherst