You Think That's Bad

You Think That's Bad

2.6 3
by Jim Shepard
     
 

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Following Like You’d 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 toSee more details below

Overview

Following Like You’d 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 isn’t allowed to tell his wife anything about his daily activities, but he can’t 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 who’s as proud of his military service with Joan of Arc as he’s 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 That’s 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.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.)
Bookforum
"The stories in You Think That's Bad are powerful reminders that institutions cannot be considered apart from the individuals who populate them. Armies, empires, corporations, and film crews shape the lives and dreams of countless millions, even as their own fates are made or broken by a few visionary leaders or disobedient drones . . . Shepard finds fascinating ways to consider how the global and the personal are inextricably intertwined, and he never commands less than your full attention . . . Magnificent." --(Justin Taylor)
The Miami Herald
"Beautifully written . . . What keeps you reading this eclectic and eccentric collection of stories is the emotional truth of the characters, and their doomed efforts to connect to the people in their lives they love most." --(Ann Levin)
The Kansas City Star
"Exceptional . . . Shepard reminds us that the short story is an art form unto itself, one that he has mastered in his own elegant and expansive way." --(Scott Ditzler)
The New York Times
"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." --(Susannah Meadows)
The Oprah Magazine O
"Stunning . . . Cinematic . . . Shepard's cataclysmic renderings are both terrifying and awe-inspiring. There's a word for that too—sublime.
The Daily Beast
"Jim Shepard, who thinks big and writes short, [is] without a doubt the most ambitious short story writer in America . . . In just a few pages, [his] short stories do the work of entire novels in capturing different places and times . . . In every story, Shepard sets his imagination (and ambition) at full throttle. In every story he lets his fancy run . . . A welcome reminder that fiction needn't be a walk around the precincts of a writer's experience." --(Taylor Antrim)
NPR
"Beautiful, essential . . . [Shepard is] one of the most perceptive, intelligent and fearless writers of fiction in America today . . . Each of the eleven stories in his new book is heartbreaking and true, and not one is less than perfect . . . [his] evocation of catastrophes both small and large, real and fictional, is an amazing study in contrast and loss, and it's exquisitely written." --(Michael Schaub)
The New York Times Book Review
"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." --(Thomas Mallon)
The Boston Globe
"Excellent . . . brutal, funny, cerebral [and] further proof that Shepard is one of the most catholic writers in America . . . It's exhilarating just to make that list [of his characters], to recall the variety of forms and subjects and voices. And it's even more exhilarating to see what Shepard does to and within these forms, how he can make Blackwater-esque jargon funny, how he can make the end of the world and the end of a marriage equally terrifying, how he can show that we're closest to people when we're hurting them . . . In Shepard's hands the sense of doom is often transformed by the biting wit and his deep affection for his characters and their fates." --(Brock Clarke)
Booklist
"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." --(Donna Seaman, starred)
Library Journal
Since Shepard's last short story collection, Like You'd Understand, Anyway, was nominated for a National Book Award, expectations are high for this latest effort, and it does not disappoint. There is no question concerning the breadth of research, ambition, and quality of writing that informs and characterizes this collection of short stories. In each story, Shepard displays a fascination with those moments when one world impinges upon another. Each character is mired in the past while simultaneously exploring bold new worlds and ideas, from the Arabian Desert to CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research). While the exotic locations and peculiar professions capture the imagination of the reader, they also accentuate the closeness each of the characters feel between the world they wish to transcend and themselves. VERDICT Shepard's range as a writer is on full display here, with multiple voices heard in various centuries and settings. His stories are as informative as they are entertaining. Readers who enjoy Andrea Barrett or Russell Banks will appreciate this, too. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/10.]—Joshua Finnell, Denison Univ. Lib., Granville, OH
Michael Lindgren
Each of the 11 stories…keys off some off-kilter but strangely affecting scenario…As an aesthetic strategy, this reliance on oddball anecdote is risky—it teeters on the edge of gimmickry—but the execution is so sure-handed that the reader is drawn in with complete and effortless authority. Shepard's stories have the strangeness and bell-like clarity of truth…
—The Washington Post
Thomas Mallon
Shepard's taut, high-­concept, research-dependent fiction covers a bracing, career-long range of hobbyhorses and obsessions. Nazis, horror movies, aircraft and explorers abound. Historical fiction is typically so ample and epilogic that the "historical short story" may seem a contradiction in terms, but Shepard has made himself, in particular, a master of this small, tricky subgenre…His fine contrivances of cerebration and feeling can remind one of Richard Powers at his best. 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
From the Publisher

“A stunner. . . . These stories bring their first person narrators right up to the point of obliteration, leaving us exhilarated.” —Los Angeles Times

“In just a few pages, Jim Shepard’s short stories do the work of entire novels. . . . Short story writers almost never get described as ambitious . . . and yet there’s no better word for Jim Shepard, who thinks big and writes short, without a doubt the most ambitious story writer in America.” —The Daily Beast
 
“If ventriloquism is a lost art, Mr. Shepard has found it. In these 11 short stories he shows he can move the lips of anyone: a special-effects designer on a Japanese film, a 15th-century French accomplice to dozens of murders, a retired American soldier reeling with post-traumatic stress disorder. Then there’s Mr. Shepard’s realistic staging, nailing entire worlds together with teeming, precise detail.” —The New York Times
 
“Shepard’s cataclysmic renderings are both terrifying and awe-inspiring. . . . Sublime.” —O, The Oprah Magazine 
 
You Think That’s Bad is potent enough to stamp Shepard as one of this generation’s short story masters. . . . Shepard’s language is precise, the scope of his research impressive, and he taps obscure historical events to terrific and terrifying effect.” —The Oregonian
 
“Each one of these eleven stories stands out for its masterly fusion of technique and subject. . . . What voices!” —San Francisco Chronicle

“There are few writers today with more artful gifts for active, authentic description. Shepard doesn’t pick one or two ‘telling details’; he propels the reader through whole bravura paragraphs of them. . . . His fine contrivances of cerebration and feeling can remind one of Richard Powers at his best. And his preference for historical questions, 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
 
“Each of the eleven stories . . . is heartbreaking and true, and not one is less than perfect. . . . One of the most perceptive, intelligent and fearless writers of fiction in America today.” —Michael Schaub, “Books We Like,” NPR
 
“So good, so meaty, so brilliant, that you will want to read [these stories] over and over, unearth the subtle notes, try to understand what drives people to do what they do. . . . Here’s the next book that you’ve been waiting for.” —The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
 
“I'm hard-pressed to think of any author who can match Shepard for variety of subject matter, or anyone else with such an instinct for balance between a character's emotional conflicts and the task at hand. . . . These eleven stories may be set as far afield as 15th century France and Holland in the not-so-distant future, but each one shares the dark heart of the human condition at its core.” —Scott Ditzler, Kansas City Star
 
“The ‘contests’ of Doctorow’s historical figures and MacLeod’s melancholy protagonists seem humdrum compared with the travails that occur in Shepard’s kaleidoscopic universe. His genius resides in his omnivorous curiosity and imaginative inventiveness. . . . Shepard’s stories have the strangeness and bell-like clarity of truth. . . . Shepard has realized a vision of literature that is, in its sideways fashion, legitimately unique.” —The Washington Post
 
“Dark and slyly funny.” —Vanity Fair
 
“Exhilarating. . . . What we need is not a writer who can make the past relevant, but rather a writer who can show us that it already is.” —The Boston Globe
 
“Shepard is the only short-story writer I have ever read whose collections come with bibliographies as a matter of course. . . . Humor is Shepard’s . . . constant; It humanizes his larger-than-life protagonists and helps keep his stories from becoming research papers. Though he has an obvious camaraderie with George Saunders, Karen Russell, and other leading lights of the absurdist-fabulist school, he is ineluctably a realist writer.” —Justin Taylor, Bookforum
 
“[Shepard] is our leading miniaturist of massive catastrophe, the Jon Krakauer . . . of the MFA set.” —Slate
 
“Overwhelming, intense, involving—even frightening. . . . Shepard is genuinely taken with his subjects, and he describes their lives in a rich and exciting style.” —Portland Mercury
 
“Impressive. . . . These aren’t ‘write what you know’ stories, and Shepard gets credit for a wide-ranging collection that wrings poignancy out of every subject it touches, from the search for subatomic particles to the construction of Mothra.” —The Onion’s A.V. Club
 
“Another masterpiece. . . . Shepard packs so much history and empathy into each story.” —Time Out Chicago
 
“Time, distance, nationality and profession pose no barrier to Shepard, who combines research with imagination to produce startlingly well-written stories that reaffirm the expansive possibilities of fiction.” —The Miami Herald

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307594822
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/22/2011
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
8.36(w) x 5.82(h) x 0.98(d)

What People are saying about this

Aimee Bender
“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)
Jay McInerney
“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 )
Richard Ford
“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)

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