You Think That's Bad

You Think That's Bad

by Jim Shepard

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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.

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)

About the Author

Jim Shepard is the author of six novels and three previous story collections. His stories are published regularly in such magazines as The New Yorker, The Atlantic, McSweeney’s, Tin House, Zoetrope: All-Story, Playboy, and Vice, among others. “The Netherlands Lives with Water,” from this collection, appears in The Best American Short Stories 2010. “Your Fate Hurtles Down at You,” also from this collection, appears in PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2011. He lives with his wife and their three children in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

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)

Interviews

Please Look After Mom author Q&A:

Q: Please Look After Mom is written in four distinct voices: a daughter, a son, a father, and finally "Mom" herself. Why did you decide to structure the novel in this way? Which voice came to you first?

A: Human beings are multi-dimensional. But what we know about our mothers doesn't always tell the whole story of who they are. I wanted to show a 'Mom' who was a complex and profound human being. As it was impossible to do this in a single person's voice, I needed multiple narrators. In the novel, the voices of the daughter, son and father are narrated in the second person, "you" and the third person, "her". It's only the mother who uses the first person. I had in mind the fact that, when a woman becomes a mother, she no longer gets to speak or sometimes even think in terms of that “I”. Of the four different voices in the book, the mother's is perhaps the most vivid and powerful. When I was writing it, it felt as though my mother's hand had held—even gripped—my authorial hand, so that she could tell her own story.

Q: This is an extremely personal novel, and readers will undoubtedly think about their relationship with their own mothers while reading. Did you draw on your relationship with your own family while writing the book?

A: My own family relationships do in fact make up the background, but the episodes in the novel were invented, or altered from reality. My own mother for example, thankfully, has never gone missing. But, speaking at a symbolic level, many mothers of our generation, I believe, have gone missing or remain neglected.

Q: Has your mother read this novel? If so, what did she think/say to you about it?

A: That she was proud of me for having written it.

Q: In Please Look After Mom, you beautifully describe many elements of Korean culture—the Full Moon Harvest, the food, clothing, etc.—that most Americans may not be familiar with. Are there any traditions that you are particularly excited to share with readers here?

A: The novel's various aspects of Korean culture came up naturally as I was describing the everyday life of the ‘Mom' character. The Chuseok holiday, or the Full Moon Harvest, in Korea is similar to Thanksgiving in America. On that day, family members all over the country return to their hometowns. In order to show gratitude to our ancestors, offerings are prepared from the season's harvest. We also pay our respects at their gravesites. On a clear night, you can see the full moon on Chuseok. There's a popular saying that translates roughly to, "May your life be as plentiful and full of joy as a Chuseok night." It expresses the sentiment that the person's life will be as bright as the full moon during the harvest festival. Last year, I got to spend my first American Thanksgiving in New York. I was invited to have dinner by a friend who'd been living in New York for a long time. Turkey was served, of course, and I had a wonderful time sharing the meal with my host's family. Just as Americans celebrate the day over turkey, Koreans spend Chuseok sharing songpyeon, or half-moon shaped rice cakes, with their families. I was delighted by the similarities between the two holidays. Dining with someone, especially these days, isn't simply a matter of sating one's hunger—preparing a meal with someone and dining under the same roof is of course a way of connecting. You can drink tea with just anyone, but to dine with someone shows how close you are to that person. In my book, ‘Mom' is always preparing warm meals, often to send them to family members living out in the city. I wanted food to play an important role in my book—a symbol of warmth that can't be expressed with words. I wish I could prepare for my American readers the many Korean dishes that appear in Please Look After Mom, so that we could share them together!

But, moving beyond food, Korea has a number of beautifully elegant Buddhist temples, such as Hwaeomsa, Pusoksa and Haeinsa, and seowon (a kind of Confucian academy) such as Dosanseowon and Byungsanseowon. These are sacred and quiet spaces, containing the spirit and culture of the country. You should definitely pay them a visit if you are ever in Korea. If you have an interest in music, try listening to pansori, Korean traditional music, which contains a different resonance than Western harmonics, and expresses a distinctly Korean sorrow and humor.

Q: Your novel is being published in many countries and people around the world are identifying with the characters you have depicted. What are some of the universal truths of the relationship between mothers and children that you explore in the novel?

A: The line by Mom when she finds her mother's soul ("Did Mom know? That I, too, needed her my entire life?") expresses, I believe, a universal truth. When I'd written that sentence, I felt that the work was complete. We all need mothers, regardless of who we are. Even those who are currently mothers!

Q:One theme that runs throughout the novel is that of personal dreams versus sacrifice for family. Do you feel that this struggle is different for older and younger generations?

A: There's that old saying that God couldn't do everything himself, so he created mothers. No matter how much society advances, there's bound to be some gap between a woman's desire for self-actualization and her need to give of herself for her family. Of course, the situation has improved a great deal, but the dilemma persists. It still holds that one person's development comes from someone else's care and sacrifice: nothing and no one can replace a mother. I think humankind has been able to sustain itself because, at its center, there's this entity called, “Mom.”

Q: You are now an extremely well-known and widely respected author in Korea. Has this fame dramatically changed your life, and your experience of being a writer? What kind of responses did the novel receive in Korea?

A: I published my first work of fiction in a Korean literary journal at twenty-two. From age sixteen to thirty, I was always working. I went to high school at night and worked during the day for a company that made stereo systems. When I was in college, I would tutor children, write and do research for the school newspaper, and read to those who'd suddenly gone blind. Even after my first book was published, I worked all sorts of jobs, any really, that would allow me to write: an editor at a publishing house, a writer for a classical radio station or for magazines, etc. My experience at these jobs provided vivid material for when it came time to write. But it was when I was about to turn thirty, when I published my second book, that people began to really pay attention. It was totally unexpected. The book was a collection of nine stories, and within six-months after it was published, 300,000 copies had been sold. It was the first time that a short-story collection had done so well in Korea. Everyone was surprised. For the next twenty years, my readers have stayed with me for every book I published. Thanks to their support, I have been able to live a life of great freedom, and to devote all of my time to writing. This was a dramatic shift for me. Writing and my personal life became like two sides of the same coin. Whatever I was experiencing at a personal level in Korean society, I tried novelizing to the most truthful and powerful extent possible, and my readers seemed to actively engage with my work and sympathize with it. Even today, I write a little every day without being tied down to anything else. I only feel free when I'm writing, and the best way I know how to give back for this invaluable freedom is to write in a way that engages people—and will make readers curious about what the next work will be like!

Q: Although this is your first book to be published in English, you've written numerous other works of fiction. When did you first begin to write and what topics were you drawn to?

A: I'm the product of my mother's influence. My mother would look so happy when she saw me reading a book. I started out reading to bring more happiness to my mother, who always looked so tired. Even before I was ten, it was my dream to become a writer. I began writing fiction on my own when I was in high school. Of course, it was an exercise more than anything. I wrote in any form I wanted—stories, essays, poems—pieces where often, the beginning didn't even fit with the end. I was a young girl who'd moved to Seoul from the countryside. I lied about my age to get a job at a company. Back then, South Korea was an industrial society and not yet a democracy, and there were disputes between the workers and the company, demonstrations almost every day. Hearing cries of protest from outside, I would lay out my notebook on the conveyor belt and write. Writing was what got me through those years; five years later, I formally made my debut as a writer.

I wrote, wanting to produce a work that expressed human beauty and its almost magical strength even when confronted with the most tragic situations. I wanted, too, to write about respect and compassion for life. Now that I am older I have these same hopes. But I also hope that after they read my works, readers will be seized by the longing to remember and see again someone they'd forgotten, or some aspect of life they may have overlooked. Whenever I see people drowning in suffering and sadness, I feel a strong compulsion to return to my writing. I would like for my work to in a way play a maternal role, of standing by those who feel sorrow, whether it is of social or personal origin.

Q: Tell us more about your writing habits. When and where do you like to write?

A: I like best to write from 3 in the morning till 9 in the morning. I like the feeling of writing in darkness and working myself, little by little, towards light. One of my habits as I write is that I often wash my hands in cold water.

Q: Is there a message that you hope readers take away from Please Look After Mom?

A: I'll point you to the novel's epigraph, by Franz Liszt: “Love, so long as you can love.” And I'd hope you'd remember, and realize again the plain truth that your mother was not born that way, that she too had to become a mother. Taking the time to think about your mother might also mean taking the time to think about yourself. If anyone wants to call his or her mother after reading this book, it would please me very much.

Q: Lastly, you are living here in the U.S. this year, studying at Columbia. What have you enjoyed most about living in New York?

A: I'm very much enjoying the tremendous variety of culture New York has to offer: MoMA, The Guggenheim, The Met, The Frick, The Morgan Library, The Whitney. I'm also visiting small galleries in Chelsea. I've been going to the opera, theater, musicals, the ballet and the cinema. I'm also trying all sorts of cuisines. Restaurants from all of the world seem to be gathered in New York. The beauty, spectacle and drama that echoes at the Metropolitan Opera, especially, is something you can't get in Korea, so I have acquired season tickets. But, “culture” is everywhere here; the streets of Manhattan themselves feel like theater. When I'm strolling around, I always have the pleasure of finding something new that I didn't notice the day before.

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You Think That's Bad 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Laura400 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wonderful short stories, many of which are based on real events. They feature similar protagonists, men suffering from a certain alienation and inability to communicate. It made me feel very sorry for his men, who all seem unsure of their expected roles and behavior. The varying and meticulously researched and detailed settings kept each story engrossing and kept me reading happily.
GeoffWyss on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My advice would be to skip the first four stories (and especially the first), which simply aren't on par with the rest of the collection. Those four stories (with the possible slight exception of the second, "The Track of the Assassins") aren't much distinguished from the sort of clunky, obvious efforts you'd see in an average literary journal, and they don't do anything to support the idea (which you often hear advanced) that Shepard is one of the best short story writers working today. I can't say I'm super crazy about the rest of the collection, but the last 7 stories are all more than worth reading, and "Your Fate Hurtles Down at You" and "Boys Town" are really, really good. Shepard is an amazing line-by-line writer, there's no waste or laziness in his best stories, and "Poland Is Watching" (about a group of Polish mountaineers winter-climbing in the Himalayas) is probably the best example of what I mean. What he does visually and aurally with that environment is dauntingly impressive. Generally, the stories feel over-researched to me--Shepard lists two entire, numbing pages of background reading in the Acknowledgments--and it's not a stretch to say that he's written the same story over and over through all 11 pieces. Every story documents some extreme state attained (consciously or unconsciously) by the main character, always at the cost of love and community, usually in the service of some expertise or art. If that story arc (which is probably an analogy to the writer's craft) interests you, you'll be in tune with the collection; if not, you'll be worn down by the inevitable separation, loneliness, extremity, and death.
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ChrisRoberts More than 1 year ago
The single thread that ties the eleven stories together, setting, winds its way through the pages a dense, provincial artifice. I believe very little in the characters, they are swallowed up the very landscape meant to define them in their encounters with disaster, impending and otherwise. Or man as an unnatural force, "Classical Scenes of Farewell" which is a typical serial killer telling. The backdrop is nature's wrath and a catastrophe to the storyline in "The Netherlands Lives with Water," and many of the other tales. It makes for claustrophobic reading and I'm one for the wide open, sans trumped up natural calamities.