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by Jim Shepard

Pub Date: March 25th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-59482-2
Publisher: Knopf

A story collection of expansive postmodernism that combines bursts of humor with flashes of tragedy.

Though Shepard (Like You’d Understand, Anyway, 2007, etc.) often writes in the first person, the narrator never sounds like an authorial stand-in and often relates events at a great geographical and/or chronological remove from the reader. In other words, these aren’t stories about what life is like right now, though they may well be about both the possibilities and limitations of words, and of fiction. They aren’t difficult stories, exactly, though some can seem as exasperating as they are amusing or engaging. “Gojira, King of the Monsters” explores the making of the movie that would be known Stateside as Godzilla, in the wake of World War II and its effects on the Japanese film industry. “Man had created war and the Bomb and now nature was going to exact its revenge, with tormented Gojira its way of making radiation visible.” In “Classical Scenes of Farewell,” a medieval manservant gives matter-of-fact accounts of child dismemberment in the 1400s. In “Boys Town,” a psychologically beleaguered vet and wife abuser who lives with his mother opens his account: “Here’s the story of my life: whatever I did wasn’t good enough, anything I figured out I figured out too late, and whenever I tried to help I made things worse.” The accuracy of his self-assessment aside, he proves to be a very unreliable narrator. “Your Fate Hurtles Down at You” concerns avalanche research in the Alps of the late 1930s, when a man contemplates his relationship with his late, twin brother—a snow casualty—and his ardor for his brother’s girlfriend. Within these stories, the connections of causality (or lack thereof) occasionally recall Donald Barthelme. The volume concludes with another story about fatal mountains, on a Polish climbing expedition toward a peak known as “a widow maker” and the domestic life left below.

The narrator of one story in this collection writes that, when the weather rages, communication is “reduced to hand signals with mittens.” Some of this writing feels like that.