Invisible Ink: No 169 - Jim Shephard
Saturday 20 April 2013
Here's an unusual situation; an author who's certainly not dead, not unknown or out of print in his native USA, greatly admired, yet ignored and unrepresented on these shores. While UK publishers reprint the most minor Nordic crime novels, we're denied an astonishing American voice.
Jim Shepard was born in 1956, in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and to some extent has conducted his writing career in reverse, starting with six novels and moving on to collections of short stories. He's the master of the in medias res ending, halting at the heart of the plot, and often uses carefully researched real events to drive his fables forward, allowing action to define character instead of opting for psychological epiphanies.
Taking one novel from the six, Lights Out in the Reptile House tells the story of 15-year-old Karel, who works, outside school hours, in the local zoo. When his unemployed father vanishes, his place is usurped by a local party member seeking to vitalise the quiet, apolitical boy, but at what moral cost? For this is a terrifying dystopian state, and fascist infiltration reaches into the quietest backwaters.
Shepard ramps the odds with brutal lucidity, and the end result is compassionate, consummate storytelling that haunts long after the book is closed.
What impresses most, as in all of Shepard's writing, is his ability to step chameleon-like inside minds. He lacks the ostentation of US modernists, yet takes a vaulting leap of imagination in every new short story. These allow him a greater range of voices and situations, and have recently become popular in Italy.
Did somebody choose to publish them there because he deals with universal themes? If so, why has nobody done the same here? The only available copies are US reprints.
One assumption must be that Shepard represents everything the current British market does not support; the almost clairvoyant ability to provide insight through action, a background interest in popular culture that translates itself into global concerns, a filmic intensity that does not fall back on ironic movie references but repeatedly offers masterclasses in observational writing. In short, literature. Plus, Shepard sometimes writes about sport – the kiss of death in the UK, although he's equally happy writing about Aeschylus, Chernobyl, or the engineers on the Hindenburg. A less charitable thought comes to mind; that perhaps he's the American David Mitchell, and somebody thinks that one is enough. Confound the market and track down his dazzling books.
Books And it is whizzpopping!
MusicThey're running their own restaurants
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta clashes with President Obama on LGBT equality: ‘Gay rights is really a non-issue’
- 2 37-year-old black woman found dead in police custody
- 3 Five-year-old boy forced classmate to simulate oral sex at primary school, claims mother
- 4 Game of Thrones season 6: New toy line suggests Jon Snow is not among the dead
- 5 Denmark bans kosher and halal slaughter as minister says ‘animal rights come before religion’
Inside Out: Pixar makes crucial change for Japanese audiences by editing out broccoli
True Detective season 2 episode 6 review: Tension mounts just as time is running out
Sherlock season 4 trailer: First glimpse of Benedict Cumberbatch in Christmas special hints at Moriarty's return
Listen! Beowulf opening line misinterpreted for 200 years
Top Gear cleared by Ofcom over Jeremy Clarkson's use of the word 'pikey'
The 9 charts that show the 'left-wing' policies of Jeremy Corbyn the public actually agrees with
Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn says 'we can learn a great deal from Karl Marx'
The last thing Labour needs is a leader like Jeremy Corbyn who people want to vote for
What the Labour party could look like under Jeremy Corbyn
I am the Jeremy Corbyn supporter that many will tell you doesn't exist
Public anger after French sunbather beaten up by gang for wearing a bikini in Reims park