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You Think That's Bad

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  506 ratings  ·  84 reviews
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 despera ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published March 6th 2012 by Vintage (first published March 22nd 2011)
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One doesn’t so much read a Jim Shepard story as dive into his infectiously delicious prose. If you’ve enjoyed his previous novels or story collections than you’re no doubt thrilled at the publication of his latest, //You Think That’s Bad.// And if you’ve not yet had the pleasure, well then consider yourself graced by good fortune and avail take opportunity to immerse yourself in his spectacular imagination.

Other writers to often settle for remaining in their comfort zone; by contrast Shepard sta
Is there any kind of story Jim Shepard’s not capable of writing? Here is his common formula, one that always works beautifully, astonishingly, and often both: choose a time, place, or topic that few fiction writers have jumped into (for example, Tokyo film production in the 50’s, Swiss avalanche researchers in the late 30’s, the muddy agony of wartime Papua New Guinea); read exhaustively the best histories available about the selected topics; and then combine a writer’s interpretation of the tim ...more
Well, hurray for this guy. He was bold and ambitious in taking on the range of characters / times / places he did. I've always thought it was odd that there seem to be so few short stories set in any time period other than our own. This is an encouraging reminder that it can be done.

Nevertheless, the stories suffer from a certain sameness. Shepard's efforts to write in different registers and voices fall a bit flat, and the domestic trajectories central to virtually every story are predictable.
Really really good. First I've read of Shepard, won't be the last. A great mix of humor and pathos—these stories seem to be doing exactly what the author intends them to do. Just total control of the language. Also an insane amt. of research clearly goes into these pieces, though the research is all background, not the focus. Sometimes things feel a tad samey, like male-in-difficult-situation-woman-waiting-at-home-for-him, be it war or mountain climbing or whatever, but hey. Still a fantastic co ...more
Linda Michel-Cassidy
I know that this doesn't speak to the quality of the writing, per se, but I really admire/an in awe of Shepard's research as well as his ability to claim authority over such a wide variety of settings and timeframes. I think "The Netherlands Lives With Water" is the first of his stories that I've read set in near-future and I was utterly convinced. Most of the others I've read are set in the past, and he seems to be able to tackle any time period or location. I read "Your Fate Hurdles Down at Yo ...more
jim shephard continues to prove that he is one of, if not THE, best living short story writers in america. i prefer him over tobias wolff, george saunders, richard ford, etc. shephard is so protean in his approach that it shocks me every time. he has such great command over vastly different voices: from a secretive skunk works employee, to the vicious gilles de rais, to a stunningly effective futuristic take on climate change and how it's massive changes will only serve to show us familiar we wi ...more
Ethel Margaret
Read my complete review at

The swagger of Jim Shepard’s opening lines pulled me in at once, and the book continues with a subtle grace. Each time I set the book down, it found its way quickly into my hands again.

Many argue that art’s greatest achievement is to place us face to face with our humanity. These stories exemplify Jim Shepard’s mastery of such a lofty craft.
One of the great strengths of this collection is Shepard's incredible diversity of subject matter. The stories here range from the semi-apocalyptic flooding of the Netherlands to mountain climbers to PTSD veterans to a Japanese father working on the special effects for "Godzilla." All of the stories demonstrate a high degree of persuasive research (Shepard includes a 2 1/2 page list of sources), sharp wit, and characters who often don't recognize their own emotional weaknesses. All are engaging, ...more
I read this ages ago and forgot to review, because I found it a bit forgettable, although I see others are raving about it. The scope of the various stories is wide and rich, though most dwell on the working relationships of (some odd types of) teams, and the possible lack of resolution to many satisfyingly modernist, but it left me rather unimpressed. Rereading it is not out of the question (one of the shorter pieces I read through without getting the slightest idea what it was about) but I did ...more
“The map was from the Survey of India series, four miles to the inch, and manifested its inaccuracy even in the few features it cited” (21).
“For one stretch we had to unload their saddlebags and drag them by the halter ropes while Aziz shouted into their ears distressing facts about their parentage” (22).
“Dip your foot in the water and here's what you're playing with: Xiphactinus, all angry underbite and knitting-needle teeth, with heads oddly humped and eyes enraged with accusation, and ribbone
So as some of you may know by now, I'm not a fan of short stories. I feel like if a story and an author are good enough, it should be a novel (or at least a novella). A 15-25 page story is just a summary, an outline of an idea that is underdone or something that is just so flimsy it shouldn't be written in the first place. And, I hate having to get into a story again every 20ish pages. So, the best possible rating for a book of short stories is a 4 this one ain't bad.

Several of the rev
Almost a year after reading this two stories from the collection stick with me. The first one in the line-up, Minotaur, I initially identified with the most. I read it three times before I was done with it. But the title story, about a vet of a recent war returning to a civilian situation that is like throwing a lit match on the gasoline of his PTSD, is the one that I can't get out of my head. Especially this quote.

"You get lonely, is what it is. A person's not supposed to go through life with
Carmen Petaccio
"In those last few nights with her, I spent what time we had let trying to recover the irrecoverable with only my presence. I wanted to believe that nothing had been lost of what we had shared so many years before. But we look on everyone's transformations as fluid except our own. 'Dress them up as you like, but they will always run away,' the King of Naples is reported to have said of his inadequate soldiers. The mother I trusted, the Vera I loved, the woman I imagined myself to be: all of thos ...more
Thom (T.E.)
I devoured this book. These are incredibly well-researched short stories. The situations are from the far corners of reality: Avalanche researchers in 1930s Switzerland; physicists working projects on a supercollider; hapless Lake States soldiers thrown against Japanese forces (if they and their equipment don't rot in the jungle of Papua); an impulsive young man stumbling on the path from deadbeat father and layabout to rampaging survivalist. Three are world-class: speculative fiction about how ...more
Geoff Wyss
I'd give this 3.5 stars if you could do half-stars on Goodreads.

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 Shepa
Caitlin Constantine
Until I read this book, I hadn't realized how much the authors I generally read tend to limit themselves when it came to characters and settings. In fact, I hadn't really thought about that at all. And then I read these stories, most of which are set outside of the United States and many of which are not set in the late 20th century/early 21st century, and suddenly those limitations have become painfully evident.

Maybe the reason why you don't see it that often is because of the tremendous amount
Some stories are more interesting than others here, but I really have not read anything by this man that I haven't liked. As usual, there are startling moments of humor in sad stories. I don't know if it's my personal life but the first few stories here had me on the verge of weeping. This from "Minotaur" when a wife discovers, after a devastating betrayal, that she doesn't know her husband. From husband's POV:

"She thought she'd put up with however many years of stonewalling for a good reason, a

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 d

This was a wildly creative batch of short stories by an author I'd never read before. He's extremely talented at jumping into different voices and characters and I don't know how he does it--it would be interesting to hear where he gets his ideas. He went from an American ex-military private with severe PTSD, to a serial killer/pedophile medieval French lord (seriously! This is what I mean by wildly creative), to the creator of Godzilla, etc. Having said that, I found the stories hit-or-miss, an ...more
Patrick McCoy
I have to say that jim Shepard is probably my favorite contemporary short story writer. I really enjoyed his previous short story collections, Love & Hydrogen and Like You'd Understand Anyway. But You Think That's Bad is probably his best to date. One thing i like about his fiction is that he often does extensive research into a subject to write a historically realistic story that has a universal message about love, life, and death. For example, one of my favorites is is called "Happy With C ...more
Another pretty much pitch-perfect collection of short fiction, Jim Shepard's You Think That's Bad once again proves that there are few better at writing compelling stories pulled from a wide variety of sources.

Everyone always remarks upon Shepard's range of material, and for good reason--dude is reading some pretty great (and, in some cases it seems, some pretty arcane) history books, and rendering those into very human stories of longing and, typically, regret. People don't pay enough attention
Chris Sanders
A little formulaic, I felt. The level of research was impressive, but after the 3rd story of some interesting person in an interesting historical period dealing with an interesting (though pedestrian) family issue, I began to weary of the structure. Still, Netherlands Lives with Water is one of my favorite short stories.
Overall, it's worth reading, but I'd suggest pacing yourself; don't binge the collection like I did.
Who knew that Jim Shepard does weather and science (and heartbreak and sadness) so well? My three favorite stories in this (amazingly wonderful) collection are about Swiss avalanche experts ("Your Fate Hurtles Down at You"), Dutch "water sector" workers of the near-future working to ameliorate the effects of global climate change ("The Netherlands Lives with Water"), and Polish winter mountain-climbers ("Poland is Watching"). These are men-(and Freya Stark)-at-work stories, each filled with deta ...more
Patricia Murphy
I didn't want this book to end. I enjoyed the stories over the course of several mornings with a cup of coffee and a dog curled it my feet. Yet each new page took me on an adventure far away. I especially enjoy Shepard's ability to construct the details of complex occupations and I love that he focuses on more than one relationship in a character's life.
Frank Stearns
A bunch of short stories about people with a depressing negative outlook on life. There is no doubt that the author is talented; however, it is hard to recommend this book. I don't want all my books to be uplifting - but each of these stories is kind of a downer... at least briefly...
Sep 24, 2013 Huda added it
Somewhere along In Cretaceous Seas coming into The Netherlands Lives with Water, I somehow thought, "Maybe later...?"

Will not rate this book because while I think the writing might be admirable and the author highly well-read, I just couldn't get into any of the minds of the narratives. So I'm putting down this book and--maybe later.

Mentions of prehistoric creatures in In Cretaceous Seas irritated me at first; I had to search things up and made sure what my mind sees is correct with what the c
Good, but not great, and certainly nowhere near as good as "Like You'd Understand." Short story collections tread a fine line--as a reader, I want some degree of unity, but I don't want that unity to bleed over into mere repetition. Unfortunately, I think this book does that, in terms of both voice and themes. There are some gems--the Netherlands/water story particularly stands out--but by the end, although I still enjoyed stories as discrete units, I was almost bored with the collection. Worst ...more

My favorite was "The Netherlands Lives with Water."

(Please go read them, so we can talk about how perfectly he can sums up the human condition, the duality of how the world destructs us as we destruct ourselves, the beautiful landscapes in every one of his tales, the stories within stories, those endings - like an afterthought - that just destroy you, the way he can shift focus from one person's internal dialogue to the external conditions surrounding them, the way that no story contai
If you haven't read Jim Shepard, I highly recommend him. I discovered his work last year in a collection of O'Henry Award Winning Stories. That story, "Your Fate Hurtles Down on You" is included in this collection. It is about avalanche researchers in Switzerland in the 1930's. Shepard's incredible research and eye for detail made me an instant fan. Shepard's prose is as powerful as I have ever read, as demonstrated by the opening to "In Cretaceous Seas." I think I have read the opening to that ...more
This was a fantastic collection of short stories. Like other reviewers have said, Shephard's ability to slip in and out of different cultures and sub-cultures is amazing. From a writer's perspective, it's obvious he's done his research. From a reader's perspective, it's not - which is what is so amazing. Shepard slips into the vernacular of his characters' worlds (miniature special effects in Japan, secret ops in the U.S., futuristic climate research in the Netherlands) like a second skin, which ...more
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Shepard was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut. He received a B.A. at Trinity College in 1978 and an MFA from Brown University in 1980. He currently teaches creative writing and film at Williams College. His wife, Karen Shepard, is also a novelist. They are on the editorial board of the literary magazine The Common, based at Amherst College.[1]

Shepard's work has been published in McSween
More about Jim Shepard...
Like You'd Understand, Anyway The Book of Aron Love and Hydrogen: New and Selected Stories Project X Nosferatu

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