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You Think That's Bad

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  639 ratings  ·  94 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
Hardcover, 225 pages
Published March 22nd 2011 by Knopf
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3.87  · 
Rating details
 ·  639 ratings  ·  94 reviews

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Oct 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Apr 22, 2011 rated it liked it
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.
Linda Michel-Cassidy
Sep 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Apr 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
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
James Winter
Feb 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Another great collection of stories from Jim, all of which turn around the idea of the imbalance between work and relationships, or more specifically a life's desire pulling against intimacy, even though that intimacy is predicated upon the sharing of that life. When the desire is mountain climbing, US black-ops, or desert-crossing, the danger of the desire becomes the sharing, and what ultimately forms those secrets and mountains between the characters. However, the characters acknowledge the m ...more
Steve Sokol
Oct 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting collection of stories. I’m not sure there is an intended theme, but I thought they all dealt with naiveté/the realization that you don’t really understand this world. Arguably, that’s what everything is about (at least to me).

I didn’t care for Minotaur or The Track of the Assassins, the lead-off entries. Surprisingly, I persevered and found some that I really liked. I thought The Netherlands Lives with Water was one of my all-time favorites and a great take on a current topic. Your F
Oct 04, 2018 rated it liked it
Another fine flock of free-range stories
by a master craftsman of the genre.
Brandon Merkley
Mar 29, 2019 rated it liked it
Not really my style of stories but he can certainly bumped it from a 2 to a 3
May 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 11, 2011 rated it really liked it

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

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
May 02, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
“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
John Vanderslice
Jul 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is another solid offering from Jim Shepard, one of America's most consistent and challenging storytellers. He seems to challenge himself as much if not more so than the reader. Shepard reguarly dives into a complicated scientific or technical or historical subject, and does a ton of reading about it, in order to come up with a single story. He's amazingly disciplined and admiringly thorough in his preparation. The stories in this book are both contemporary ad historical and range from subje ...more
Caitlin Constantine
Mar 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Thom (T.E.)
Jun 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 28, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Oct 05, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Carmen Petaccio
Apr 25, 2011 rated it liked it
"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
Apr 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011-reads
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
Dec 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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
Aug 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011

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
Apr 04, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Nov 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
I think this book can best be described by the story "Your Fate Hurtles Down At You" which won an O'Henry award. In the case of this particular story fate is an avalanche, capable of striking at any moment and obliterating everything in its path without warning or reason, but in all the other stories, destiny is similarly bleak, whether we are in the Arabian desert searching for a lost palace or with the Dutch in the 21st century awaiting the rising tide from climate change to sweep us away. Whi ...more
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  • Orientation: And Other Stories
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Jim Shepard is the author of seven novels, including most recently The Book of Aron, which won the Sophie Brody Medal for Achievement in Jewish Literature from the American Library Association and the PEN/New England Award for fiction, and five story collections, including his new collection, The World To Come. Five of his short stories have been chosen for the Best American Short Stories, two for ...more