My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Every single story in this collection of historical fiction and contemporary fiction pieces is breathtaking, full of incredible and often all-too-real details, and features characters (whether based on real people or not) that leap off the page. I particularly appreciate how writer Jim Shepard finds the humanity and depth in characters that are otherwise difficult to like.
The title story is a gorgeous examination of a forbidden love that simply cannot survive in its era. It’s a great story, but one that is a little hard for me to take after the transcendence of Call Me By Your Name and that book (and movie’s) powerful rejection of the old tropes in LGBT fiction. Yet this book is very much about catastrophe, so “The World to Come” fits in well. I frequently found myself looking up information about the events Shepard writes about in his stories that sound so unbelievable but really did take place. The three stories set in modern times are perfectly placed breathers from history no less lacking in concrete details and relevant facts.
I was not looking forward to reading this book at first because I thought I didn’t enjoy history, but The World to Come: Stories has convinced me that historical fiction is a powerful and necessary lens through which to see our shared humanity, and perhaps learn how we can avoid such catastrophes in the future. This collection is a revelation.