I’ve been a problem baby, a lousy son, a distant brother, an off-putting neighbor, a piss-poor student, a worrisome seatmate, an unreliable employee, a bewildering lover, a frustrating confidante and a crappy husband. Among the things I do pretty well at this point I’d have to list darts, re-closing Stay-Fresh boxes, and staying out of the way.
This is the self-eulogy offered early on by the unwilling hero of the opening story in this collection, a dazzling array of work in short fiction from a master of the form. The stories in Love and Hydrogen—familiar to readers from publications ranging from McSweeney’s to The New Yorker to Harper’s to Tin House—encompass in theme and compassion what an ordinary writer would seem to need several lifetimes to imagine.
A frustrated wife makes use of an enterprising illegal-gun salesman to hold her husband hostage; two hapless adult-education students botch their attempts at rudimentary piano but succeed in a halting, awkward romance; a fascinated and murderous Creature welcomes the first human visitors to his Black Lagoon; and in the title story, the stupefyingly huge airship Hindenburg flies to its doom, representing in 1937 mankind's greatest yearning as well as its titanic failure.
Generous in scope and astonishing in ambition, Shepard’s voice never falters; the virtuosity of Love and Hydrogen cements his reputation as, in the words of Rick Bass, “a passionate writer with a razor-sharp wit and an elephantine heart”—in short, one of the most powerful talents at work today.
"This is one of the most important collections in years, because Shepard does so many things that are all too rare in the medium. He gives us red-blooded characters who leave the living room and fly, kayak, dive, search, and emerge from swamps to devour unwitting campers. Stories about dissolving marriages are fine, but how about two gay engineers on the Hindenberg? Or a 19th century man searching for a giant half-shark/half-whale? These are uniformly bold and exhilarating stories. Let's hope Shepard becomes as influential as he should be. He's the best we've got."
"In a first-rate gathering of 22 stories, bizarre premises drawn from history and popular culture share space with moving examinations of deranged family dynamics . . . Adventurous and enthralling work from one of the most interesting of all contemporary American writers."
--Kirkus, starred review
"These are some of my favorite short stories of the past decade. Reading them is like encountering our national literature in microcosm: multiform and polyrhythmic, violent and fanciful, erudite and hard-boiled, built on twin foundations of nostalgia for the never-was, and of that millennial American optimism that is indistinguishable from despair."
“Jim Shepard’s access to different voices, social types, levels of experience, is truly astonishing. He has observed deeply, and his selection of detail from that observation is brilliant. This is the work of a deft, audacious artist.” --Norman Rush
“Shepard’s writing is lean, assured, never canned; it is sometimes cinematic and often astringently funny. He reconstructs the ordinary and offers the surreal as a given, [finding] highly original ways into the most moving stories.” --Amy Hempel