Shepard, Karen (Karen L. Shepard)

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Shepard, Karen (Karen L. Shepard)


Born in New York, NY; married Jim Shepard (a novelist); children: three. Education: Williams College, B.A., 1987; University of Houston, M.F.A., 1992.


Office—Department of English, Williams College, 5 Southworth St., Williamstown, MA 01267. E-mail—[email protected]; [email protected].


Writer, novelist, and educator. Williams College, Williamstown, MA, lecturer in English.


William Goyen-Doris Roberts Fellowship for Fiction, Christopher Isherwood Foundation; National Magazine Award finalist, 2002; Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist Grant, 2002.



An Empire of Women, Putnam (New York, NY), 2000.

The Bad Boy's Wife, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2004.

Don't I Know You?, William Morrow (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor to periodicals, including Atlantic Monthly, Self, USA Today, Glimmertrain, Mississippi Review, Southwest Review, and Bomb.


Karen Shepard is a novelist and a college lecturer in English. Her debut book, which Booklist reviewer Grace Fill called a "highly unusual first novel," is An Empire of Women, the story of the "intricate and strained family relationships between three generations of women," Fill stated. Seventy-five-year-old Celine Arneaux is a Chinese-American photographer whose reputation was made by a series of three collections of daring, subtly erotic childhood photographs of her granddaughter, Cameron, taken at age one, six, and twelve. When a publisher suggests a retrospective of Celine's work, she, Cameron, and Cameron's mother, Sumin, return to the Virginia cabin retreat that provided the setting for the original photographs. Now twenty-five, Cameron is unsure what to make of the photographs that secured her grandmother's reputation. Sumin, at odds with both her mother and daughter, is trying to reach some sort of equilibrium with them. Serving as the focal point during the three women's understated journey of discovery is Alice, a six-year-old Chinese girl left in Cameron's care when the girl's mother had to return to China. In the course of the novel, unpleasant questions arise about Celine's background and the death of her mother in 1967 in Communist China. As the three struggle with their mixed ethnicities, their identities as mothers and daughters, and with their personal inner landscapes, each struggles to find something to fill a lack that they didn't know they had. "Although virtually no action transpires, the emotional landscapes are mapped masterfully," commented a Publishers Weekly contributor.

In The Bad Boy's Wife, the breakup of Hannah's twenty-year marriage to "bad boy" Cole has traumatized her badly. Shaken, needy, and emotionally wrecked, Hannah needs emotional support from her ten-year-old daughter, Mattie. For her part, Mattie is also feeling the harsh sting of her parents' breakup as she feels herself torn between them, victim of their games of affection, and emotionally hurt in her own way. Hannah begins to relive her past and early days with Cole, providing the reader a careful look at the luckless horse trainer and daughter of privilege as they first get together and embark on their relationship. Time and distance has not made their early days any less tumultuous, as Cole and Hannah experience marital problems over money, infidelity, and power within the relationship. "This is domestic fiction done with edge and attitude," observed Booklist reviewer Joanne Wilkinson.

Don't I Know You? is Shepard's "masterful third book," noted a Publishers Weekly contributor. In 1976, twelve-year-old Steven Engel returns home to his Upper West Side Manhattan apartment to find his mother, Gina, stabbed to death. Steven is traumatized in the immediate aftermath of the crime. Gina was apparently raped and killed by someone she knew, but clues are in very short supply, and no suspect is arrested. Several potential suspects are considered, however, including Gina's ex-husband and Steven's father; her current boyfriend at the time, Phil; and a number of other old boyfriends and acquaintances. In the next part of the novel, Lily Chin is engaged to marry wealthy Nickolai Belov when she is confronted by a woman who claims to be Nickolai's former lover. Shockingly, the woman tells Lily where Nickolai has hidden something precious—the murdered Gina's journal, which he took from her apartment for reasons unknown. In the novel's final part, set ten years further in the future, seventy-three-year-old Louise Carpanetti ponders her own mortality as terminal cancer sets in, and worries about what she'll do about her developmentally disabled son, Michael, a childlike fifty-five-year-old. A newspaper article about a break in Gina's twelve-year-old murder prompts Louise to relive old fears and face old worries about her son's possible involvement in the crime. The oblique revelation of the facts about Gina's murder leads to a "conclusion that's satisfying, haunting and well deserved," commented the Publishers Weekly contributor.



Booklist, September 1, 2000, Grace Fill, review of An Empire of Women, p. 64; May 1, 2004, Joanne Wilkinson, review of The Bad Boy's Wife, p. 1548.

Entertainment Weekly, May 26, 2006, Melissa Rose Bernardo, review of Don't I Know You?, p. 111.

Library Journal, September 15, 2000, Ellen R. Cohen, review of An Empire of Women, p. 114; April 15, 2006, Sheila Riley, review of Don't I Know You?, p. 68.

O, The Oprah Magazine, August, 2004, "Biblio: Recommendations from Our Shelf to Yours," review of The Bad Boy's Wife, p. 132.

Publishers Weekly, July 17, 2000, review of An Empire of Women, p. 171; March 13, 2006, review of Don't I Know You?, p. 39.


Audrey, (July, 2006), Paul Kim, "An Unconventional Mystery," review of Don't I Know You?

Believer, (August, 2004), Ann Cummins, review of The Bad Boy's Wife.

HarperCollins Web site, (November 12, 2006), biography of Karen Shepard.

Karen Shepard Home Page, (November 12, 2006).

Williams College Web site, (November 12, 2006), biography of Karen Shepard.

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Shepard, Karen (Karen L. Shepard)

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