Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Collected E-Mail Correspondence of Jack A. Shepherd

The Collected E-Mail Correspondence of Jack A. Shepherd 2006-2008

If Jack Shepherd's legacy is to be defined primarily by his work in the field of cat videos, it must at least be bolstered by his prodigious output in a wildly different (and too often overlooked) medium: The e-mail.

The Collected E-Mail Correspondence of Jack A. Shepherd: 2006-2008 (Faber & Faber, 2009) ends with a short note – deeply characteristic of Shepherd's laconic, no-nonsense style – that sheds as much light on the fundamental questions that informed his illustrious literary career as any of the dozens of critical tomes that have been dedicated to the subject in the past decade:

Dudebro. Check out this fucking cat. It is riding on a vacuum cleaner.

Students of Shepherd's work will immediately recognize the juxtaposition of cats and cleaning apparatuses as a central obsession of his literary endeavors, and they will doubtless appreciate this enlightening collection for the many e-mails like this one which help to elucidate Shepherd's often enigmatic contributions to the world of letters. But the real value of The Collected E-Mails is the surprisingly complete picture it paints of the innermost workings – both the frustrations and the aspirations – of a once-in-a-generation literary mind. Take this passage from an August 2008 e-mail exchange between Shepherd and one of his New York acquaintances:

What's striking about this e-mail (apart from that characteristic colon-parenthesis coda by the self-styled "Master of the Emoticon") is the almost joyful flippancy that he brings to the undeniably serious subject of intimacy with friends and the relations between the sexes.

This playfulness is not a characteristic that fans of such works as "Pixel Princesses: The Ten Hottest Videogame Babes" will recognize, but it is a helpful clue in unraveling the more difficult outpourings of the often inscrutable Shepherd and a timely reminder that behind even the grittiest of his writings is a sense of humor – of joy – that can illuminate many of the darker passages that have obsessed the literary world since he burst onto the scene with "Cats and Cleavage: Two Things I Like."

As useful as The Collected E-Mails may be to a critic of Shepherd's work, it is also a surprisingly tender document of a life lived to its fullest, with all the attendant heartbreaks and triumphs. As Shepherd himself blithely puts it in an e-mail to a colleague found near the end of the collection:

yo yo yo broseph stalin – thanks for the invite dude but i prolly cant make it tonight. partying way to fucking hard this week already if you know what i mean. ;-}

These are the words of a man who knew himself all too well, and – along with the rest of this captivating volume – they are words that help us to get to know him just a little bit better, as we come to grips with his life and works. If The Collected E-Mails is anything to go by, the release next year of Jack A. Shepherd's Complete IMs, Texts, and G-Chats may well be the literary event of the decade.

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