Synopses & Reviews
Following Like Youd Understand, Anyway
—awarded the Story Prize and a finalist for the National Book Award—Jim Shepard returns with an even more wildly diverse collection of astonishingly observant stories. Like an expert curator, he populates the vastness of human experience—from its bizarre fringes and lonely, breathtaking pinnacles to the hopelessly mediocre and desperately below average—with brilliant scientists, reluctant soldiers, workaholic artists, female explorers, depraved murderers, and deluded losers, all wholly convincing and utterly fascinating.
A “black world” operative at Los Alamos isnt allowed to tell his wife anything about his daily activities, but he cant resist sharing her intimate confidences with his work buddy. A young Alpine researcher falls in love with the girlfriend of his brother, who was killed in an avalanche he believes he caused. An unlucky farm boy becomes the manservant of a French nobleman whos as proud of his military service with Joan of Arc as hes aroused by the slaughter of children. A free-spirited autodidact, grieving her lost sister, traces the ancient steps of a ruthless Middle Eastern sect and becomes the first Western woman to travel the Arabian deserts. From the inventor of the Godzilla epics to a miserable G.I. in New Guinea, each comes to realize that knowing better is never enough.
Enthralling and unfailingly compassionate, You Think Thats Bad traverses centuries, continents, and social strata, but the joy and struggle that Shepard depicts with such devastating sensitivity—all the heartbreak, alienation, intimacy, and accomplishment—has a universal resonance.
"The protagonists in Shepard's elegant, darkly tinged stories of love, sometimes misplaced, are searching for something. There's Freya Stark, the ambitious heroine in 'The Track of the Assassins,' who sets out in 1930 across the Middle East desert with only a guide, a muleteer, and Marco Polo's Travels. Or the narrator of 'Netherlands Lives with Water,' who grapples with changes in global climate, relationships, and life in Rotterdam, all the while searching for a solution and knowing deep down there isn't one. In 'Happy Crocodiles,' a miserable WWII G.I. stuck in New Guinea thinks about his stateside girlfriend and her puzzling relationship with his brother while trying to survive the elements and the enemy. As in his earlier Like You'd Understand, Anyway, Shepard's characters cover a wide swath of experience: Department of Defense black ops researchers, avalanche scientists, the inventor of Godzilla. Or they're 38 and living with their mother, like Martin in 'Boys Town.' There's humor in unexpected places, particularly as glaciers melt and waters rise in 'Netherlands,' which reminds us that though what we've lost might be different, we're all missing something. (Mar.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
“Exceptionally imaginative [and] highly original…There is so much knowledge, insight, feeling, and artistry in each engrossing Shepard story, he must defy some law of literary physics.” Booklist (Starred Review)
“Jim Shepard is a shapeshifting wizard: in some stories he seems to be a historian on hallucinogens; in others a scholarly purveyor of speculative fiction. Whether he’s writing about the past or the future, Shepard combines a wild imagination with a stunning gift for mimesis. You Think That’s Bad is his best collection yet.” Jay McInerney
“Shepard translates the world for us. I felt so grateful reading this book because he has metabolized, thought about, researched, learned, gleaned, and understood so many complicated aspects of the world we live in. And not just our world now but past worlds, new worlds, internal worlds, external worlds. He is a time traveler with insight, and we are just plain lucky to have him bringing back these treasures.” Aimee Bender
“Shepard’s talent is so various and canny he can write about seemingly anything and make it thrilling to us. His writerly eye is acute. His instinct around a sentence is virtuosic and masterful.” Richard Ford
“If ventriloquism is a lost art, Mr. Shepard has found it...he can move the lips of anyone: a special effects designer on a Japanese film, a 15th-century accomplice to dozens of murders, a retired American soldier reeling with post-traumatic stress disorder. [He nails] entire worlds together with teeming, precise detail.” The New York Times
“Stunning...Cinematic....Shepard’s cataclysmic renderings are both terrifying and awe-inspiring. There’s a word for that too — sublime." O, The Oprah Magazine
“A master...Shepard’s taut, high-concept, research-dependent fiction covers a bracing, career-long range of hobbyhorses and obsessions...And his preference for historical quests, for real people’s big gestures, may help keep American short fiction from falling asleep in the snug little precincts of its usual subject matter." The New York Times Book Review
Culling the vastness of experience — from its bizarre fringes and breathtaking pinnacles to the mediocre and desperately below average — like an expert curator, Jim Shepard populates this collection with characters at once wildly diverse and wholly fascinating.
A "black world" operative can't tell his wife a word about his daily activities, but doesn't resist sharing her confidences. A young Alpine researcher is smitten by the girlfriend of his dead brother, killed in an avalanche he believes he caused. An unlucky farm boy becomes the manservant of a French nobleman who's as proud of having served with Joan of Arc as he's aroused by slaughtering children. A free spirit tracks an ancient Shia sect, becoming the first Western woman to travel the Arabian Deserts. From the inventor of the Godzilla epics to a miserable G.I. in New Guinea, each is complicit in his or her downfall and comes to learn that, in love, knowing better is never enough.
These stories traverse centuries, continents, and social strata, yet what they depict with devastating sensitivity — all the heartbreak, alienation, intimacy, and accomplishment — is utterly universal.
About the Author
Jim Shepard is the author of six novels and three previous collections, the most recent of which, Like You'd Understand, Anyway, won the Story Prize and was a National Book Award finalist. "The Netherlands Lives with Water," from this collection, will appear in Best American Short Stories 2010 (edited by Richard Russo). He lives with his wife and their three children in Williamstown, Massachusetts.