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The glimpse of this capacity is part of what allows you to write characters who are so deeply flawed.Given that so much great literature is about staggering transgression, knowing that that capability of striving for something better is crucial for keeping you reading.Shepard is one of America's foremost story writers: His work has appeared in magazines like The New Yorker, Granta, and Harper's, and has been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories.
That sense that we can be in some ways geniuses of our own self-destruction runs, in some ways, counter to the more traditional notion of the epiphany—which tells us that stories are all about providing information to characters who badly need it.He's a professor of English Literature at Williams College, and he spoke to me by phone from his home in Williamstown, Massachusetts.When I first encountered "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," I read it the way many people do when they first encounter the story—a kind of social satire that veers over into random violence, plus a little spasm of hard-to-sort-through theology at the end.She is trying to make it not about her, but about the children.In this example, it shows how the grandmother is always trying to get what she wants.He displays an odd regard for the grandmother, who forgives him right before she dies: For Jim Shepard, author of Love and Hydrogen and You Call That Bad, this line has been cause to contemplate what it means to be good—and the value of goodness when it's merely fleeting.If human beings can muster startling flashes of selflessness and generosity, why do we revert so quickly to our flawed, limited selves?You know: Suddenly Billy understood that his grandmother had always gone through a lot of difficult things, and he resolved he would never treat her that way again.This kind of conversion notion is based on a very comforting idea—that if only we had sufficient information, we wouldn't act badly.Epiphanies are, in some ways, staged and underimportant. The fact that there's a brevity to human connection and human empathy—the fact that it goes away—might make you feel that we should not make a big deal that it was there at all. We have to value the moments when a person is everything we'd hope this person would be, or became briefly something even better than she normally is.We need to give those moments the credit they're due.