Slate Magazine Reviews “You Think That’s Bad”

Hello Jim Shepard fans!  I will be working on updating this blog with all of the reviews that have been coming out lately for Jim’s new collection!  Also, please be sure to check out his book tour to see if he’s going to be in your neighborhood!

Here’s an excerpt from a great review of You Think That’s Bad by Jennifer Scheussler in Slate Magazine.

Between the longer historical stories, Shepard inserts portraits of messed-up contemporary men, elliptical and often very short pieces one would be tempted to call chasers if they didn’t have so much throat-burning kick of their own. These guys are like the nameless interlocutors in David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, only with sexier jobs (particle physics, intelligence, pharmaceuticals). They may be domesticated compared with all the mountain-climbers and explorers, but late-capitalist deskwork has hardly civilized them. Emotionally speaking, they’re still living either at 8,000 meters, where oxygen deprivation turns them into muscle-wasted zombies, or swimming so far beneath the surface of the ocean that extreme pressure has turned them into something like the now-extinct Xiphactinus (described in the brilliantly weird “In Cretaceous Seas”), “all angry underbite and knitting-needle teeth,” face frozen in “a perpetual state of homicidal resentment.” The typical Shepard guy is “a crappy son, a shitty brother, a lousy father, a lazy helpmate, a wreck of a husband. As a pet owner he’s gotten two dogs and a parakeet killed. Some turtles and two other dogs died without his help.” It can sometimes be hard to tell if this is a diagnosis or a boast.

However ugly these guys are, Shepard’s own prose never fails to be devastatingly handsome, accreting hard particles of technical description and tough-mouthed man-talk before reaching a lyrical climax that tends to involve the whiteout of real or imagined death. And if Shepard’s thematic soundtrack can rumble a bit portentously at times, the subtly pinging connections between the stories keep the reader from wandering out for more popcorn before the next mini-feature starts. The scientist-narrator of “Your Fate Hurtles Down at You,” tracking potential avalanches high in the Swiss Alps, could almost be the father of the particle physicist in “Low Hanging Fruit,” measuring the massive forces lately unleashed beneath those same mountains at the Large Hadron Collider. The traumatized Iraq war vet of “Boys Town,” who retreats to his weapons cache in the Michigan woods after making an ill-advised and possibly actionable romantic advance on a neighborhood woman, is a grown-up version of the alienated school-shooter of “Project X.” But he would also fit right in in the story that follows “Boys Town” here, about a 15th-century peasant boy who spent his youth in service to Gilles de Rai, a former comrade-in-arms of Joan of Arc who spent his golden years raping and dismembering children.

Click here to read the full review.

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