[Reading Room] In Cretaceous Seas by Jim Shepard

This story starts off magnificently,

“Dip your foot in the water and here’s what you’re playing with: Xiphactinus, all angry underbite and knitting-needle teeth, with heads oddly humped and eyes enraged with accusation, and ribboned bodies so muscular they fracture coral heads when surging through to bust in on insufficiently alert pods of juvenile Clidastes. The Clidastes spin around to face an oncoming maw that’s in a perpetual state of homicidal resentment.”

Shepard takes us on a tour of the ‘monsters’ of the deep in the Cretaceous era and then, suddenly, the story swings into the modern day human world.

It’s disorienting and not at all what I was expecting. I was a little disappointed, to be honest. The writing in the first few paragraphs evoked a world unknown to me, with power and vivid images. It seemed to promise one thing and then veer away.

But as I read on, I was swept along on the language as we examined the life of one tortured middle-aged, suburban man. I didn’t much like him — I don’t think I was supposed to — but I did end up having some sympathy for him.

And the language…wow.

I had to go back and read the story again to figure out what the heck happened when we switched from the Cretaceous to modern suburbia, but that was OK because I wanted to.

I read the story without the introduction found online, which made it even more disorientating, but see what you think:


[Reading Room] Cretan Love Song by Jim Shepard

This story is a lovely illustration of how to take one of those factual tidbits we often run across and turn them into a compelling and short story. It’s also written in the second person.

The author starts by writing about the Santorini eruption that wiped out the Minoan civilization 1600 years ago. He starts with an almost clinical, scientific description of what you would have seen if you had been standing on a beach on Crete at the time of the eruption. He quickly begins to introduce descriptive and poetic elements, along with people and relationships. Before long, the ‘you’ of the story has a family, and an urgent desire to fulfill.

What started out as a remote, impersonal “Imagine if” story has quickly become a heart-wrenching race to the finish that has the reader rooting for the unnamed protagonist and ends with a huge compelling message for us all.

Shivers up the spine!

This Selected Shorts episode features a great short interview with Jim Shepard who explains how his obsession with the Santorini eruption turned into this beautiful, moving story (and how it helped him in his everyday life!)