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You Think That's Bad: Stories by Jim…

You Think That's Bad: Stories (edition 2011)

by Jim Shepard

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1415125,417 (3.89)3
Title:You Think That's Bad: Stories
Authors:Jim Shepard
Info:Knopf (2011), Hardcover, 240 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, 2011, short stories

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You Think That's Bad by Jim Shepard



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Showing 5 of 5
You Think That's Bad is a collection of short stories from one of my favorite writers, Jim Shepard. There are eleven stories in the collection, ten of which were previously published in The Atlantic, McSweeney's, The New Yorker, and Electric Literature among other. It is an interesting collection of stories, taking on inadequacy, desperation, loss, heartbreak, love, and alienation.
Take "Minotaur," previously published in Playboy, which takes on the secret world of black operations research and development, but at the same time takes on life and love:

Everyone involved with it obsesses about it all the time. Even what the insiders know about it is incomplete. Whatever stories you do get arrive without context. What’s not inconclusive is enigmatic, what’s not enigmatic is unreliable, and what’s not unreliable is quixotic. pg. 10

or "The Track of the Assassins," which is about a woman that leaves her family and home behind in order to travel through the Middle East:

Everyone involved with it obsesses about it all the time. Even what the insiders know about it is incomplete. Whatever stories you do get arrive without context. What’s not inconclusive is enigmatic, what’s not enigmatic is unreliable, and what’s not unreliable is quixotic. pg. 13

The stories in the collection cover a lot of ground, taking place in various countries and settings around the world and also going as far back as the 1440s in Paris. "Classical Scenes of Farewell" takes place in 1440s Paris as a young man falls under the hand of a sadistic Lord and helps murder young children.But Etienne, while trying to understand the deeds he does in the name of his Master, also struggles with love:

All I desired, morning in and evening out, was a love with its arms thrown wide. But the contrary is the common lot, everyone’s family telling him furiously that everything hurts, always. The nest makes the bird. pg. 176

You Think That's Bad is a strong collection of stories and highlights Shepard's writing very well. All of the stories are connected through common themes, but are very different from one another: black operations research and development, high altitude mountain climbing in the winter, serial killing in the 1440s, and the Netherlands as it struggles with a growing water problem.
You Think That's Bad is a selection of The Rumpus Book Club and comes out March 22, 2011 so be sure to check it out. ( )
  joshanastasia | Oct 20, 2016 |
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. ( )
  Laura400 | Dec 29, 2011 |
Fantastic. ( )
  NancyKay_Shapiro | Jun 12, 2011 |
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. ( )
  GeoffWyss | May 19, 2011 |
This is Jim Shepard's third collection of factual-based short stories, a form in which he seems to have found and developed a niche. Shepard teaches writing. Instructors say you should write about what you know, as Sheparad has discovered, you can also write about what you have read - perhaps they are one and the same. His ability to insert memorable images or phrases to build atmosphere of place and time is amazing - whereas some writers might have just a few key descriptions here and there, the fabric of his stories are thick with them one sentence after the next.

There are 11 stories in the book, and each is based on true events or people from all periods of history (including the future in two of the stories). Shepard has a remarkable range, able to portray everything from 21st century CIA spooks, a Victorian-era woman explorer, a 15th century serial killer, to a hypothetical 2011 mountain climbing expedition (the Nanga Parbat peak in fact has never been climbed in winter). Adding to this external world panorama of diversity is an internal introspection among the characters showing common human bonds - it doesn't matter who, where or when, Sheparad shows or reminds us we are all the same in universal ways. This makes the stories that much more believable and stick in your memory, it's the internal struggle of the characters that bind the stories together.

My favorite stories are "The Track of the Assassins" about Freya Stark; "The Netherlands Lives with Water" about the vaunted Dutch system of dikes and the problems they (will) face caused by Global Warming; "Your Fate Hurtles Down At You" about avalances in the Alps; "Gojira, King of the Monsters" about the artist who created Godzilla (this is my favorite story); and "Poland is Watching" about climbing in winter Nanga Parbat the 9th tallest mountain in the world.

--Review by Stephen Balbach, via CoolReading (c) 2011 cc-by-nd ( )
  Stbalbach | Mar 31, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307594823, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:57 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Culling the vastness of experience--from its bizarre fringes and breathtaking pinnacles to the desperately below average--like an expert curator, Jim Shepard populates this collection wildly diverse and wholly fascinating characters, like the inventor of the Godzilla epics to a miserable G.I. in New Guinea, each complicit in his or her downfall.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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