Shepard, Jim 1956–
Shepard, Jim 1956–
PERSONAL: Born December 29, 1956, in Bridgeport, CT; son of Albert R. and Ida Shepard; married; wife's name Karen; children: Aidan, Emmett, Lucy. Education: Trinity College, B.A., 1978; Brown University, M.F.A., 1980.
ADDRESSES: Home—Williamstown, MA. Office—Department of English, C-19 Stetson, Williams College, Williamstown, MA 01267. Agent—Peter Matson, Sterling Lord Literistic, 65 Bleecker St., New York, NY 10012. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Writer and educator. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, lecturer in creative writing, 1980–83; Williams College, Williamstown, MA, 1983–, began as assistant professor, became J. Leland Miller Professor of English.
MEMBER: Phi Beta Kappa.
AWARDS, HONORS: Transatlantic Review Award, Hen-field Foundation, 1979, for "Eustace"; John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Award, 2005.
Flights, Knopf (New York, NY), 1983.
Paper Doll, Knopf (New York, NY), 1987.
Lights out in the Reptile House, Norton (New York, NY), 1990.
Kiss of the Wolf, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1994.
Nosferatu, Knopf (New York, NY), 1998.
Project X, Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.
WITH WILLIAM HOLINGER; UNDER JOINT PSEUDONYM SCOTT ELLER
Short Season, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1985.
21st Century Fox, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1989.
"THE JOHNSON BOYS" SERIES FOR YOUNG ADULTS; UNDER JOINT PSEUDONYM SCOTT ELLER
The Football Wars, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1992.
First Base, First Place, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1993.
That Soccer Season, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1993.
Jump Shot, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1994.
(Editor, with Ron Hansen) You've Got to Read This: Contemporary American Writers Introduce Stories That Held Them in Awe, HarperPerennial (New York, NY), 1994.
(Editor, with Amy Hempel) Unleashed: Poems by Writers' Dogs, Crown (New York, NY), 1995.
Batting against Castro (stories), Knopf (New York, NY), 1996.
(Editor) Writers at the Movies: Twenty-six Contemporary Authors Celebrate Twenty-six Memorable Movies, Perennial (New York, NY), 2000.
Love and Hydrogen: New and Selected Stories, Vintage Contemporaries (New York, NY), 2004.
Like You'd Understand Anyway (short stories), Knopf (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor to periodicals, including McSweeney's, Granta, Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Harper's, New Yorker, Paris Review, Triquarterly, Doubletake, and Playboy.
SIDELIGHTS: Jim Shepard is the author of a number of novels for both adults and young adults. He has also cowritten several teen sports stories with William Holinger under the joint pseudonym Scott Eller.
Flights, his first published work, is the story of a luckless adolescent boy, Biddy Siebert, who lives in Connecticut. Biddy's life is lonely and unpleasant. He seems to have no lasting relationships, and the few friendships he has are undone when families move away. Biddy's home life is hardly more fulfilling, for his parents are given to tormenting each other. Judy, Biddy's mother, is weak and submissive to her husband, the domineering Walt. It is Biddy's father who becomes the catalyst for the boy's great adventure, for he encourages the youth's interest in airplanes. Walt Siebert brings his son books on aircraft and even takes Biddy along when his friend offers an airplane ride. Biddy, who sees himself as a failure, is inspired by the books and his flight and decides to steal the friend's plane and fly it. For Biddy, the theft and flight seem to be an opportunity for redemption. Flights was praised as a distinguished debut for its author. Washington Post Book World contributor Tom Paulin deemed Shepard's work "subtle, brilliant, beautifully-wrought fiction." Another reviewer, Frederick Busch, described the novel in the New York Times Book Review as "well-made, well-written and splendidly imagined."
Shepard's second novel, Paper Doll, is about an American B-17 crew flying dangerous missions over Germany during World War II, told from the viewpoint of one of the plane's crew. James Lasdun, who reviewed the novel in the New York Times Book Review, called Shephard's historical recreation "minutely detailed" and said that "where his skills become most evident are the opportunities for descriptions of vividly heightened sensory experience afforded by a story about wartime flying. After the leisurely, earthbound opening, with its teasing series of delayed and aborted missions, the story at last becomes airborne, and the accumulation of detail suddenly comes into its own."
The author's third novel, Lights out in the Reptile House, is a story about a youth's experiences in a country increasingly dominated by fascism. The novel's hero is fifteen-year-old Karel Roeder, who finds that his school work is becoming more and more devoted to subjects extolling the virtues of fascism and the fascist state. The meek, socially withdrawn Karel, who works at a zoo's reptile house, is in love with the rebellious Leda, who defies the state in its institutionalization and impending execution of her dyslexic brother. While Leda's family is subjected to scrutiny by local authorities, Karel finds that his own home life—he lives with a shiftless father—is disrupted by the state's presence. After Karel's father disappears, a soldier moves into his family's house. This menacing figure, Kehr, soon becomes Karel's personal tormentor, whereupon the hapless hero conspires to flee. As fear and suspicion spread throughout the community, so too does the presence of the much-feared Civil Guard. It is this group, which counts the cruel Kehr among its members, that brings about the novel's key episode, the torching of the reptile house.
Kiss of the Wolf mixes the terror and intrigue of the thriller novel with the psychological drama of the strained relationship between a boy and his mother. Eleven-year-old Todd and his mother, Joanie, are deeply upset when Todd's father, Gary, abandons them and moves west. Trying to fill the gap in her life, Joanie begins to see a man named Bruno, a used car salesman and suspicious character who seems to have connections with several shady customers. The real trouble begins, however, on the night of a party given for Todd. Speeding off down a parkway after the festivities, Joanie hits a pedestrian with her car. Horrified, she panics and drives off without reporting the incident to the police. Unwilling to confess her crime, she also tries to persuade Todd to be quiet about what he has seen. "Altar boy Todd is deeply shocked by his mom's behavior and subsequent coverup," related a Kirkus Reviews contributor; "their rift is the heart of the novel." This isn't the end of their troubles, however, for it turns out that the dead man was an associate of Bruno's, and that he was supposed to be carrying money that is now missing. Bruno begins to suspect Joanie, and he goes after her with a vengeance. Richard Bausch in the New York Times Book Review commented that Kiss of the Wolf succeeds not only as a thriller, but on other levels as well, noting that "we go through all the stages of Joanie's guilt, we are privy to all the nuances of feeling between her and the boy as their understanding of what has happened changes them, and we come to see the story as a parable of responsibility and absolution."
The central character of Nosferatu is German film director F.W. Murnau, whose films include the vampire thriller, Nosferatu, and The Last Laugh, as well as the American films Sunrise and Tabu. He is considered by many to be the greatest of the silent filmmakers. Murnau's career ended in 1931 when, at age forty-two, he was killed in an automobile accident. The first part of the book follows Murnau's life, first as a student who forms a strong bond, later to become a love affair, with poet Hans Ehrenbaum-Degele, then as a member of Max Reinhardt's theater school, and finally as a soldier during wartime, when he discovers that Hans has been killed at the front. The novel then goes forward in time to the making of Nosferatu, considered the first great vampire film. Leslie Epstein wrote in the New York Times Book Review that "this part of the story is essentially told from what appears to be actual documents and parts of what may or may not be Murnau's own journals. Together they make the Nosferatu chapter as fine a realization of the creative process—of the struggle to bring to life an interior vision, to make it move—as exists in the literature of film."
Mark Harris wrote in Film Comment that "stylistically, the film chapters are written like production diaries. Conversely, the chapters devoted to the director's personal life are composed in clipped postmodernist prose. Murnau's anguished homosexuality is an abiding theme, although it is treated somewhat elliptically." "It must be said," wrote Epstein, "that this story, while often beautifully written, is throughout oddly conceived. There is almost no dialogue, little attempt at characterization beyond the two lovers and, after the death of Hans, no real relationship. It is almost as if Shepard were attempting to duplicate either the speechlessness of silent film or the Expressionist doctrine that, to quote Lotte Eisner in The Haunted Screen, 'denies a personal life to all the characters with whom the hero is in conflict.' Or it may simply be that Shepard in some sense shares Murnau's own ambition, which is 'to photograph thought.'"
Entertainment Weekly contributor Michael Giltz wrote that with Nosferatu, Shepard "keeps Murnau's heart, broken and sad, quietly beating in our imagination." A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote commented "discriminating readers will appreciate Shepard's skill and integrity." Susan Gene Clifford, writing in the Library Journal, called the book "noteworthy for its unique fusion of story and style."
In his novel Project X, Shepard tells of a school shooting through narrator Edwin Hanratty, a disgruntled eighth grader who provides a look at his adolescent life, including his family, girls, and other classmates. Edwin, who has only one true friend, named Flake, and is picked on by bullies, is also being stalked by an elderly man. Before long, Edwin and Flake are plotting revenge for their unhappy lives. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that the author has "a pitch-perfect feel for the flat, sardonic, 'I-go-then-he-goes' language of disaffected teens." Susanne Bardelson, writing in the School Library Journal, wrote: "This heartbreaking and wrenching novel will leave teens with plenty of questions and, hopefully, some answers." Shepard is also the author of Love and Hydrogen: New and Selected Stories, in which, according to Antioch Review contributor Kyle Minor, the author "displays an astonishing range." A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the collection "adventurous and enthralling work from one of the most interesting of all contemporary American writers."
For a short period in the early 1990s Shepard alternated between his solo ventures and his sport stories with Holinger, which he wrote because of an interest in athletics shared with his coauthor. The sports novels, which feature teens facing typical coming-of-age problems in plots generously peppered with play-byplay game action, are written in a breezy style that appeals to teen audiences looking for a light read. The novels Shepard writes under his own name, however, are much more intense.
Shepard, who teaches classes on film, collected sixteen essays, ten of which are reprinted, for Writers at the Movies: Twenty-six Contemporary Authors Celebrate Twenty-six Memorable Movies. "There's enough variety here that rays of humor (and occasionally insight) shine through," noted Charles Winecoff in Entertainment Weekly. A Publishers Weekly contributor called Salman Rushdie's essay on The Wizard of Oz "a dazzling meditation," and the book "a fascinating look at how one set of creative minds can view another."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 36, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986.
Antioch Review, summer, 2004, Kyle Minor, review of Love and Hydrogen: New and Selected Stories, p. 580.
Booklist, March 1, 1998, Ray Olson, review of Nosferatu, p. 1096; January 1, 2005, review of Project X, p. 771.
Entertainment Weekly, April 17, 1998, Michael Giltz, review of Nosferatu, p. 68; December 8, 2000, Charles Winecoff, review of Writers at the Movies: Twenty-six Contemporary Authors Celebrate Twenty-six Memorable Movies, p. 92.
Esquire, February, 2004, Daniel Torday, review of Project X, p. 30.
Film Comment, November, 1998, Mark Harris, "Books Silents and Darkness," p. 67.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1993, review of Kiss of the Wolf, p. 1419; November 15, 2003, reviews of Project X and Love and Hydrogen p. 1337.
Library Journal, April 15, 1998, Susan Gene Clifford, review of Nosferatu, p. 116; January, 2004, Mark Andre Singer, review of Project X, p. 160.
New York Times Book Review, October 9, 1983, Frederick Busch, review of Flights, pp. 15, 33; October 20, 1985; November 9, 1986, James Lasdun, "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner," p. 9; February 25, 1990, p. 27; February 20, 1994, Richard Bausch, review of Kiss of the Wolf, p. 34; December 4, 1994, p. 71; February 12, 1995, p. 36; April 12, 1998, Leslie Epstein, "The Undead," review of Nosferatu, p. 7.
Publishers Weekly, January 26, 1998, review of Nosferatu, p. 67; October 23, 2000, review of Writers at the Movies, p. 69; November 24, 2003, review of Project X, p. 41.
School Library Journal, May, 2004, Susanne Bardelson, review of Project X, p. 175.
Washington Post Book World, September 25, 1983, Tom Paulin, review of Flights, p. 4; February 11, 1990, p. 4; April 5, 1998, review of Nosferatu, p. 1.
Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (February 5, 2004), Stephanie Zacharek, review of Project X.