15 Years of Summer Reading
A shocking loss puts a boy's own survival at risk.
Karen Shepard's third novel, Don't I Know You?, recalls the grungy and ominous world of 1970s America. It is a tale told in three parts, over a span of more than a decade, of the murder of a single woman on the West Side of Manhattan, and the cost of this event on the lives of her only son and several of those who were close to her. The son, Steven, is 12 in the first part of the novel, which opens in the moments after the murder; Shepard's understanding of the psychological murk of boys that age is startling, and so is her intensity. She wants you to feel the heat of the era's violence and confusion in a personal, psychological way. This sounds dark, and it is, but so well written, so sure-footed and unflinching in its view of everyday reality and the flawed tools we humans are given to cope with the stone-heavy burdens of errant sexuality, rage, guilt, and regret that the effect is profoundly bracing and, like all tragedy, cathartic. Shepard has found a voice here that is as strong and confident and full of wise observation as any in recent American fiction.