You Think That's Bad
Jim Shepard
“Poland is Watching”

Jim Shepard’s story, “Poland Is Watching,” is from his new collection, YOU THINK THAT’S BAD (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011). Shepard is the author of seven novels and two previous collections of stories, including Like You’d Understand, Anyway, winner of the 2007 Story Prize and a finalist for the National Book Award.


The Book of Aron (2015) is Shepard’s most recent novel. Writing in the Guardian, Joshua Ferris said: “The Book of Aron is his best novel yet, a short and moving masterpiece.”


Shepard said this about the story’s origin: “Poland Is Watching” began one day when I was stuck in a hospital waiting room, having taken in my mother for some routine tests. I was sitting around glumly congratulating myself on the equanimity with which I’d accepted yet another lost workday and came across an article on winter mountaineering in an old copy of National Geographic. I’d encountered references to the sport before and had meant to pursue the subject but had never gotten around to it.


I’ve been more and more drawn, recently, to extremities of situation and emotional states, and if you like extremities of situation, winter mountaineering is for you. Its lunatic paradoxes – the way it’s by its very nature all about both extraordinary achievement and astonishing self-stymieing, for example – seemed to me hugely evocative of the exhilarations and agonies of certain kinds of love relationships. I read more about what climbers’ wives and girlfriends go through, and very quickly the basic conflicts of the story started to come together in my head.

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