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The World to Come: Stories

by Jim Shepard

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""Without a doubt the most ambitious story writer in America," according to The Daily Beast, Jim Shepard now delivers a new collection that spans borders and centuries with unrivaled mastery. These ten stories ring with voices belonging to--among others--English Arctic explorers in one of history's most nightmarish expeditions, a young contemporary American negotiating the shockingly underreported hazards of our crude-oil trains, eighteenth-century French balloonists inventing manned flight, and two mid-nineteenth-century housewives trying to forge a connection despite their isolation on the frontier of settlement. In each case the personal is the political as these characters face everything from the emotional pitfalls of everyday life to historic catastrophes on a global scale. In his fifth collection, Shepard makes each of these wildly various worlds his own, and never before has he delineated anything like them so powerfully"-- "These ten stories ring with voices belonging to--among others--English Arctic explorers in one of history's most nightmarish expeditions, a young contemporary American negotiating the shockingly underreported hazards of our crude-oil trains, eighteenth-century French balloonists inventing manned flight, and two mid-nineteenth-century housewives trying to forge a connection despite their isolation on the frontier of settlement. In each case the personal is the political as these characters face everything from the emotional pitfalls of everyday life to historic catastrophes on a global scale"--… (more)
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These stories serve to demonstrate two of Jim Shepard’s great passions: chronicling historical disasters and conducting research. Eight of the ten stories fictionalize real disasters narrated by characters who could have confronted them. These stories also contain so much historical detail that they resemble investigative journalism. It is obvious that Shepard enjoys his time with original records (e.g., personal diaries, journals, naval histories, minutes of hearings, and even safety handbooks intended for employees) and his interests are indeed broad (e.g., Arctic exploration, railway infrastructure, submarine warfare, tsunamis, ocean towers, early flight, volcanic eruptions). Yet there are a few unifying themes in this collection, most notably that man is at the mercy of fate and powerful environmental forces.

The title story is an outlier because it tells a subtler story of two isolated farm wives whose loveless marriages push them into a close relationship. Because of its psychological and personal focuses as opposed to the more dramatic fare of the other stories, this one probably is the strongest piece in the collection.

“Safety Tips for Living Alone” is the most dramatic story. It tells of a collapsing Air Force radar platform in the North Atlantic from the dual perspectives of its commander who is facing a devastating storm and his wife who monitors everything from home.

Although they are set in the past, most of the stories resonate with similar problems we still face. “Positive Train Control” raises the specter if our failing infrastructure. “Cretan Love Song” reminds us of the unpredictability and destructive power of tsunamis. "HMS Terror" tells the story of what can go wrong with exploration.

The first person narratives simultaneously immerse the reader in the drama of dire situations while evoking much of the minutia of daily life. If there is one flaw with Shepard’s writing, it may be his attraction to minutia, an approach that tends to occasionally detract from the tension that he carefully build in the stories. ( )
  ozzer | May 29, 2017 |
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""Without a doubt the most ambitious story writer in America," according to The Daily Beast, Jim Shepard now delivers a new collection that spans borders and centuries with unrivaled mastery. These ten stories ring with voices belonging to--among others--English Arctic explorers in one of history's most nightmarish expeditions, a young contemporary American negotiating the shockingly underreported hazards of our crude-oil trains, eighteenth-century French balloonists inventing manned flight, and two mid-nineteenth-century housewives trying to forge a connection despite their isolation on the frontier of settlement. In each case the personal is the political as these characters face everything from the emotional pitfalls of everyday life to historic catastrophes on a global scale. In his fifth collection, Shepard makes each of these wildly various worlds his own, and never before has he delineated anything like them so powerfully"-- "These ten stories ring with voices belonging to--among others--English Arctic explorers in one of history's most nightmarish expeditions, a young contemporary American negotiating the shockingly underreported hazards of our crude-oil trains, eighteenth-century French balloonists inventing manned flight, and two mid-nineteenth-century housewives trying to forge a connection despite their isolation on the frontier of settlement. In each case the personal is the political as these characters face everything from the emotional pitfalls of everyday life to historic catastrophes on a global scale"--

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