Check out Bookslut’s review of “Master of Miniatures,” which the reviewer considers to be Jim’s best book yet. Michael Schaub of Bookslut also chose the book as one of his 16 favorite books of 2010. Here’s a [longish] excerpt of the review:
Not long after that, I read this book, a novella by Jim Shepard (Love and Hydrogen, Project X). I waited a few days and read it again. Master of Miniatures is short, and it’s understated, and it gets Godzilla, but it also gets his father — or one of his fathers, Eiji Tsuburaya, the special effects director who made Gojira what it was (and who later created Ultraman). Shepard’s Tsuburaya is lonely. He is wrapped up in work, becoming increasingly estranged from his wife, unable to be anything like a normal father to his sons. His own father burned Tsuburaya’s hands as a child as punishment for bad grades; he tortures himself with memories like that one. But:
…Tsuburaya also remembered him taking them on the hottest days for shaved ice, with grape, strawberry, or lemon syrup… He remembered insect festivals in the evenings when the autumn grasses bloomed and the singing insects they’d gathered in their tiny cages were, at an agreed-upon stroke, all freed, and how they waited — himself, his grandmother, Ichiro, and his father — for that moment when the cicadas would get their bearings, puzzle out their freedom, and let loose their rejoicing in song.
So he moves on. He goes to work; he hires his son to work with him, over the strong and heartfelt objections of his wife, still grieving deeply for her daughter, who died, as a baby, in her sleep. He abandons her on the day of the Star Festival, “one of his wife’s favorites, and was beginning to wonder at which he was more adept: hurting Masano inadvertently or intentionally.” Instead, he goes to work. He constructs a city in miniature. He helps design an icon: “Of course it would have a Tyrannosaur’s head, but an Iguanodon’s body seemed an easier fit for a stuntman’s requirements… And Honda added a Stegosaur’s back plates along the spine to ensure their creature would appear distinct from any recorded species.” He makes it move. He creates a monster.
This is a book about Eiji Tsuburaya that might also be — accidentally, perhaps — the truest book ever written about Godzilla. He’s barely there, of course — there’s the costume, and there’s Haruo Nakajima and Katsumi Tezuka, the stuntmen who wore the 220-pound outfit. But he’s there in Tsuburaya — lonely but not alone, confused, misunderstood by even himself, resigned, victimized by the recent war, gutted by loss. They do what they have to do. It’s self-defense. It’s work.
It’s nearly impossible to know what to say about Master of Miniatures, which departs so radically from Shepard’s early work, it doesn’t exactly feel like the work of the same author. That’s not to say it’s any less brilliant; this is probably his best work, along with his chilling 2004 school shooting novel, Project X. If there’s a theme, it’s this: Jim Shepard writes about alienation, about unbelonging, than pretty much anyone else in America today. It’s maybe that feeling that my brother understood. He belonged to us, but he hated belonging to anything else. I think.