This section contains 3,265 words
(approx. 9 pages at 400 words per page)
Sing To It Summary & Study Guide Description
Sing To It Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
The following version of this books was used to create this guide: Hempel, Amy. Sing To It. New York: Scribner, 2019.
"Sing To It":
The narrator speaks of a man who told her to avoid metaphors because nothing is like anything else. However, before he said that, he asked her to make her hands a hammock for him. The man then also says, quoting a poet, that not even the rain has such small hands as her. The narrator feels the need to comfort the man, but instead quotes an Arab proverb that says to "When danger approaches, sing to it" (3). However, before quoting the proverb, the narrator repeated what the man had said about no metaphors. The man pleads with her and she indulges him, making her hands a hammock, and her arms the trees.
"The Orphan Lamb":
A man methodically carves the skin and wool off of a dead lamb during winter. He then ties the skin again over the the lamb that had just been orphaned, allowing an ewe to recognize the scent and allow the orphan to nurse from it. The narrator interjects, telling that, of all the farm stories, this was the story the man told. It was his means of seduction, relating a time when brutality saved a life. The narrator then says this was the man's intention, as he wanted her to feel and understand she would be known through this as they became physically intimate.
"A Full-Service Shelter":
The narrator volunteers at an animal shelter in Spanish Harlem, working two nights a week. The dogs recognize the narrator and the other workers at the shelter through their actions, such as the narrator enjoying cleaning the cages of animals rather than spending time with friends. The workers would check the list of dogs to be euthanized and then take them out for a walk the night before, returning them to comfortable bedding and expensive treats. The workers bore the brunt of working at the shelter, getting the required injections and argued over the names of dogs. The workers and the narrator deal with the potentially dangerous pit bulls by being generous and patient, including working sometimes to prevent them being euthanized. Sometimes the workers would need a break and walk a smaller animal instead. The narrator preferred bigger dogs to smaller ones, but was still wary of Presa Canarios, as a couple of the breed had killed a friend of hers.
The workers understood the dogs better and treated them their best despite the bureaucracy hindering them. The shelter also faced food shortages due to budget cuts and money being spent on a slippery new floor, which caused a worker to slip and be injured. The narrator loved the dogs more than people, clinging to their need for intimacy and which she did not like in people. The workers and volunteers worked hard to convince Congress and the Department of Health to help the animals. The narrator eventually lost her fear of Presa Canarios after finding one injured and unable to feed itself. Sometimes, efforts to save the dogs from being killed were futile. The narrator eventually finds out that the new floors had been created from money needed for sedatives before the animals were given the last injection for their death. The dogs are made to walk to across a room to join other dead animals as their last act. The narrator imagines the dogs in the Caribbean in their afterlife. Finally, the dogs knew the workers and the volunteers as people who would stay to help with the work instead of visiting a dead parent, as one worker once did.
"The Doll Tornado":
A tornado of dolls lands in Greensboro, North Carolina. Items such as telephones and xylophones that have been pulled into the doll tornado are visible, as are dolls that are either intact or missing parts. Some of the dolls are fully clothed while some are naked, while some who can talk do not. The cloud of dolls is suspended from the ceiling of the third floor in an ancient factory, a building that can catch fire easily. The dolls than transform into weather, going into a room in a town where a civil rights museum is in an old Woolworth's store, the site of a civil rights protest in February 1960. People can buy a ticket to the museum and a ticket for the Doll Tornado.
"Stay with Syd":
The narrator's friend Syd is seeing a married man, who has a penchant for flirting with all of Syd's friend. The married man flirts with the narrator but she spurns him after he tries to invite her out west, hinting at a relationship with her alongside Syd. After she spurns him, the married man brings over Syd and kisses her elaborately as a passive aggressive reaction to the narrator's rejection. The relationship between Syd and the married man is turbulent, with Syd acting out the affair as if it belongs to a movie. One week a month, the narrator would stay at Syd' beach house while she was away visiting the married man. Due to a coming storm, there is threat of a tree falling into Syd's bedroom, but the narrator does not act to have the tree pruned because Syd would not pay for it.
When Syd returns, she wakes up in the night crying, the narrator explaining that she is lonely. Once the storm arrives, Syd and the narrator go to the movies in a town over to ride it out. Before the movie begins, they sit too close to the screen and see a preview of a sci-fi move to come in September. However, a police officer empties the theater citing a bomb threat. Since they are not offered tickets for another showing, the narrator and Syd return to the movie once it is safe alongside most everyone else. They sit further back this time and see the same preview as before, with the narrator faking her excitement and asking for summer to end already.
The narrator went to see a film by a French actor, noting it was not as memorable as his first film, which had more erotic elements. 30 years prior, the narrator's aunt Lauryn accompanied the French actor on a tour as a translator. Doing a study abroad in Madrid, the young Lauryn was full of spirits and soon impregnated by the actor, who did not respond when she sent him a note about her pregnancy. A timely call from her best friend helped prevent Lauryn's death by overdose in the aftermath of the miscarriage and rekection. Lauryn would call her mother in Chicago every night and was soon able to get back on her feet. While in Lisbon working at a job translating medical records, Lauryn met Macario, a semiretired race car driver she had met at the racing track. Though her mother did not attend, she did send a sizable gift and Lauryn and Macario settled in a house in Estoril after the wedding. Macario got Lauryn a poodle, and she spent her days visiting coastal towns and learning their history.
After some time, Lauryn began to urge Macario to give up the risk of his profession. At the time, Lauryn was 21 and the narrator 17. With the pregnancy imminent, Lauryn made an effort to spend more time in the US, even urging Macario to get a job in the company her father had built. He acquiesced and they had a son, James. With the child came a shift in Lauryn's mood, a positive one she attributed to childbirth. However, soon Lauryn booked a flight to Lisbon on her 23rd birthday, citing a desire for a break from her life. Lauryn checked into the Lisbon Ritz and called her mother, eventually committing suicide from an overdose. Unbeknownst to her and her mother Hillis, the police had recorded their conversation, as they did with every international call at the time. Since the police chief was a good friend of Macario, he received a tape and listened to it eventually and stored it in a bank storage box. On James's tenth birthday, Macario had the narrator listen to the tape as well.
While visiting Hillis in Chicago, the narrator reveals that she works as an editor for a medical publication, a job similar to the one Lauryn once had. The narrator decides she will make a tape recording addressed to her aunt about a party she attended in Malibu. There, she ran into the French actor who had impregnated Lauryn. Though she led him on for a while, the narrator did not let the actor seduce her, thinking she would record the conversation on a cassette tape and have Macario store next to the one with Lauryn's voice in the bank.
Though married to her husband for 40 years, Mrs. Greed indulged in many extramarital affairs without any sense of shame. While holding only the traces of her beauty, Mrs. Greed began an affair with the narrator's husband, who even thought that Mrs. Greed had a resemblance to his mother. This comparison was meant as a compliment and further inflamed their passions. Mrs. Greed would always bring a basket of green apples when visiting the husband, something he would say he had bought himself but the narrator knew to be otherwise. Though she could hide the cosmetic work she had done and refused to acknowledge, Mrs. Greed had other surgeries that belied her age. Mrs. Greed also enjoyed listening to the husband complain about his other affairs, all the while refusing to spend more time with him.
The narrator found a way to spy on them, hiding a camera in a book on the nightstand. She observed their interactions and found the photographs of a younger self that Mrs. Greed had brought to the husband. Mrs. Greed also invited the husband to bring the narrator to dinner at her home in lieu of a suggested threesome. The narrator entertained the thought, thinking of the kind of dress he could wear to such a dinner. The narrator noticed that a car brought Mrs. Greed to her home while she was supposedly away on business. The narrator had conflicted thoughts, unable to feel angry at her husband but instead feeling it towards Mrs. Greed. The narrator pays a few teens to develop and deliver the tapes to Mrs. Greed's home, thinking it would send the woman to the hospital. As she waits, the narrator eats one of the green apples and discards the core, only to find it returned.
The narrator and her lover agreed that the second "d" in Fort Bedd is silent. They inhabited an apartment next to a park where the man was dying of old age. The Fort Bedd was their bedroom and they spent most of their time there. The man chose to keep the apartment dark, but the narrator would open the curtains for light when he was asleep. She thought she could begin to grow a tree because she needed it, and maybe eventually it would grow into more.
"Four Calls in the Last Half Hour":
The narrator is a jilted lover who has been spurned by a man who is composed and assured, not needing to engage with the narrator. Though he does not get lonely the way the narrator does, the man does get bored on weekends and will pick up the phone to call someone he denied.
"The Correct Grip":
The narrator, a university student, was attacked by a man. The wife of the man called her, thinking she was someone the man he was having an affair with. The wife reveals that the man had once used a knife on her as well. The woman begins a casual conversation, asking for the narrator's description and remarking that they almost look similar. The woman then asks the narrator if she should stay in the relationship, but the narrator does not offer advice. Though the woman offers to buy the narrator lunch, the latter refuses and hangs up to take her dog for a walk. Before the wife, the narrator had been on the phone with her friend who had fallen over an exposed root and sprained her ankle. Her dog had then run to a neighbor for help, who then called an ambulance. The narrator remarked that her dog may not have done the same, though she wondered if she would have been saved from the man if her dog had been there. She then takes her dog out for a walk with her new leash, remarking upon the amount of control it provides her with.
"The Second Seating":
Three people were enjoying a dinner, including a vodka fizz and kale salad. They had arrived early to get a table outside, and the by the time they were finished, the sun still had not set. It had rained the day before, so they stayed and enjoyed the outside seating. Bob, one of the three, was dying and promised the other two that they would return there to have dinner without him. He had also asked his wife to build a screened porch so there was a room without any memories tied to him. Though a couple arrived to be seated, the three do not give up their seats and begin the dinner all over again.
Laying in bed with her dog, the narrator has a glass of water. Through her window, she sees a moonbow, a rainbow over a full moon, something she does not expect to see in upstate New York. She goes downstairs to her backyard to get a better view and sees a bear there. The bear begins to play with a ball just like her dog did, drinking from the same bowl, and playing with the same plush toy. The narrator conflates the bear with her dog, Logan, and begins to speak to it about the things that have changed in her neighborhood and her life. She imagines that the bear will begin to play with the tire swing but the bear chews through the rope and goes off into the woods.
A woman buys a house but the former owner did not fix the door, leaving behind a pool-cleaning robot instead, even though there was no pool where there once had been one. The buyer's attorney pointed out that there was a contractual obligation to fix the door but the former owner still would not do it. The former owner would show up every now and then to pick up something left behind, and the buyer would use the opportunity to ask help with a difficult chore. After asking help with weed, the buyer is sure the former owner will not return to pick up the child's blackboard left behind.
"The Quiet Car":
The narrator meets an old lover on the Acela, where they sit in the Quiet Car and have a few hours to catch up. The narrator had rented a fallen down house not far from the beach for the summer. She has been there for a year and knows that the M-80s thrown about for the holidays are not by MS-13, despite the president's assertion. The narrator is close to retirement and chooses not to go south for the winter, staying in the hamlet she is in. She has a refrigerator that freezes everything in it, except the vegetable compartment. Her brother, a baker, is visiting the following week during a convention, and she will instruct him to put his butter and cream in that compartment. Seeing a sale at Home Depot, the narrator cuts out an ad for a refrigerator and sends it to the owner of the house. The day before, she saw an old man sitting in a worn recliner someone had left on the side of the street. Though he was disoriented, the old man was able to give precise contact information about his son to the police. Though intrigued, the narrator decided not to follow the story.
As the story begins, the narrator is in Florida in January, working part-time as a home health aide for senior citizens. The low cost of living in Florida allows her to live a frugal life with her income, part of the reason she moved from New York. She had worked for a long time as a teacher in a private girls' school in New York but was fired after cocaine with her students. Though she is often on call, the narrator has a lot of free time, which she spends fixing her rented home that she had been tricked into renting. She is also reminded of the various violations and odd history of the house by a geriatric neighbor who continually annoys her. The narrator reveals that she had become pregnant as a teenager, with the father unaware. She then entered a special home for pregnant teenagers where she gave up the child for adoption. At times, she thinks about the child and the different experiences she might have had.
The narrator must further contend with the utility company trimming the trees of the house, as they have become a fire hazard. She reminisces on her time at the home in Maine, where she was treated fairly and was another girl among the crowd. There was an intimacy among the girls while they stayed there but they always fell out of touch afterwards. One day, the narrator is contacted by one of the girls from the home, who tells her there is a book about the home by someone born there. Apprehensive before the book arrives, the narrator finds out that any children not adopted were starved to death and buried in the orchard. After years of investigation, the author had been able to secure witnesses and contacted the local authorities with the news.
Meanwhile, the geriatric neighbor continues to remind her that the house is falling apart and a stain in the neighborhood, though he does so passively. One day, the narrator is watching a patient, Lois's, dog when it runs away, only to be found by a kind woman whose daughter claimed the ability to speak with animals. Through her days, the narrator continues to imagine different adventures with her daughter, though she makes no effort to track her down. One day, on Lois's insistence, the narrator signs a petition to urge Mariah Carey to not accept an engagement ring that cost of millions of dollars. Once she is done with that, she continues to sign off on other petitions, finding herself in a rhythm. After her air-conditioning unit breaks, she is reminded of how the home in Maine had burned down at point, which she thought was a purification.
Her peaceful life is shook when the lawyer neighbor who had adopted four girls from abroad, is found to have sexually abused two of the girls. After being released on bail, the lawyer committed suicide before he could be arrested again. The narrator inadvertently reveals the news to a man who had come to blow leaves off her roof and she feels like a gossip as a result. She also plans to see a psychic before a tropical storm lands, thinking of what the psychic would tell her. The psychic tells her to write down what a younger version of her would say and she ponders the implication. The narrator thinks of her fondness for apples but realizes she won't be eating any after the news of the home.
This section contains 3,265 words
(approx. 9 pages at 400 words per page)