cover image The World to Come

The World to Come

Jim Shepard. Knopf, $25.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-524-73180-9

In his latest collection, Shepard (The Book of Aron) continues to spin historical yarns, bouncing from the Minoan civilization of 1600 B.C.E. to the 21st-century United States, and the results are rewarding. The incredible “Safety Tips for Living Alone” recounts the fate of a doomed U.S. Air Force radar station, Texas Tower #4, lost to a winter storm in 1961, via the experiences of workers aboard and their wives safely ashore. More men are trapped in the harrowing “HMS Terror,” which follows an English expedition of arctic waters, as well as in “Telemachus,” a WWII story that takes place inside a claustrophobic English T-class submarine patrolling Far Eastern waters. The collection’s detailed, heartbreaking title story suggests a different kind of imprisonment, as neighboring housewives attempt to forge a taboo loving relationship while isolated on the 19th-century American frontier, while Shepard’s more contemporary tales focus on the quarantine-like effects of depression and family feuds. Throughout, the author immerses the reader in the minds of his characters, often structuring narratives in epistolary fashion, and returns to quirks—several characters fall in love with cousins, for example—to provide the collection a threaded cohesion. (Feb.)