Justin Taylor

  • Facts of Life

    There are a few constants in Jim Shepard’s fiction. The first is disaster: war, divorce, scientific catastrophes, murder, acts of God. The second is primary-source research. Shepard is the only short-story writer I have ever read whose collections come with bibliographies as a matter of course. Along with your hearty helping of human drama, a Shepard story serves up all sorts of facts: about handgun specs, the Cenozoic Era, how it feels to be John Entwistle (bassist for the Who) or serve in a Roman-legion detachment to the British frontier. In “The Track of the Assassins,” the legendary female

  • Pretty Vacant

    “At twenty-six, Karl Floor had had a hard life: father dead, mother dead, stepdad sick and mean, siblings none, friends none, foes so offhanded in their molestations that they did not make a crisp enough focal point for his energies.”

    This is the first sentence of You Were Wrong, Matthew Sharpe’s fourth novel, which features on its cover a photograph of what appears to be a station wagon hurtling off a cliff but is actually a toy car going off the corner edge of a table. Karl Floor is a man who, like Bartleby, would prefer not to. Unlike Bartleby, however, Karl is probably going to anyway, if

  • culture November 06, 2009

    Under the Dome by Stephen King

    The premise of Under the Dome is very simple: an invisible and impenetrable barrier of unknown provenance envelops the small Maine town of Chester’s Mill, instantly transforming this latter-day Grover’s Corners into a snow globe. The dome is in place by page three, and thereafter things start going to hell. About 980 pages later, they get there. Under the Dome is sprawling, messy, bizarre, infuriating, intermittently wonderful, and above all else, addictive. It’s Our Town meets No Exit, on a scale that makes Bleak House look like Of Mice and Men; a deeply flawed pop gem that’s hard to classify