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.