Reviews for An Empire of Women

“Delicate yet searing…Shepard has ably portrayed how obsession with female beauty can disfigure not only families and individuals, but cultures and governments.” (New York Times Book Review)

“Intricate and intriguing.” (New York Daily News)

“A bravura performance.” (Rosellen Brown)

“Plainspoken and direct, yet rich in complexities, the story…raises a host of compelling questions about heritage and family, and more than a few about contemporary art.” (Publishers Weekly)

“An exhilarating debut.” (Margot Livesey)

“Not since Virginia Woolf have the snares and scars of familial relationships been rendered with such brilliance.” (Ron Hansen)

Livshin, Julia. “Chick Lit.” The Washington Post. Sunday, August 01, 2004: page 10.

Published 05:30 a.m., Sunday, August 22, 2004

Portrait of a marriage

With a title like The Bad Boy’s Wife (St. Martin‘s, 259 pp. $23.95), you might expect a frothy romance. But Karen Shepard‘s new novel is much better than that. Spanning 20 years, it skillfully reconstructs the complicated emotional terrain of a marriage gone sour.

They were an unlikely match — Hannah, a sensible girl from a proper Southern family, and Cole, a handsome fly-by-night horse trainer — but they were wild about each other (“Like getting hit by lightning without getting hurt”) and hoped that would be enough.

Over the years, money problems and infidelities large and small crept in, and the pair weathered a particularly dicey spell when Hannah considered leaving Cole for her reliable, adoring hometown sweetheart. Instead, she got pregnant (“there’d been a general hush about her, as if she was in a giant soap bubble”), and they had Mattie, who is 10 when the book opens and miserably caught between her parents in an unpleasant custody battle. What finally did the marriage in was a Southern beauty named Georgia, whose aristocratic, serpentine charms smote both Hannah and Cole.

Shepard, whose previous novel was An Empire of Women, uses shifting points of view to tell the story — a tough thing to pull off, but it’s effective here because the characters have such distinctive voices and sensibilities. The events unfold in reverse chronological order, starting with a car accident that leaves Georgia in a coma, all the video footage was found in her dash cam from Blackbox My Car installed in her car. This sets the stage for some unlovely behavior onHannah’s part, which in turn provides the impetus for the legal squabbling. A slightly contrived framework, perhaps, but no matter, because the meat of the book — Hannah and Cole’s maddening and moving relationship, which emerges more fully with every chapter — is so satisfying. And the real treat is the writing: clean, no-frills and bull’s-eye accurate.

Read full review here:

Bernardo, Melissa Rose. Entertainment Weekly. Friday, May 19, 2006.

Reviewed by Melissa Rose Bernardo
May 19, 2006

The plot of Don’t I Know You? seems Law & Order-ready: A 12-year-old boy discovers his dead mother in their NYC apartment; clues are gathered, leads pursued, yet the killer roams free. Karen Shepard’s investigation unfolds obliquely — jumping forward 16 months, then more than a decade, then flashing back to four years before the murder — concentrating on seemingly extraneous characters. Her cunningly crafted jigsaw puzzle is colored by vibrant prose (”The sky was the color of sour milk. The backs of his thighs were sweating”) and capped by a you’ll-never-guess conclusion that’s not the least bit gimmicky. You might want to read it all over again just to follow Shepard’s beautifully subtle tracks.

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Connelly, Sherryl. “She Knows Murder Mysteries.” New York Daily News. Sunday, May 21, 2006: page 19.

Connelly, Sherryl. “She Knows Murder Mysteries.” New York Daily News. Sunday, May 21, 2006: page 19.

Scheeres, Julia. “Who Killed Gina Engel?.” The New York Times. Sunday, June 18, 2006: Sunday Book Review.


Published: June 18, 2006

HOW well do you really know the person closest to you? If you could peer into your lover’s mind, would you be overwhelmed by what you saw — adulterous thoughts, repressed urges, homicidal fantasies? Karen Shepard’s darkly gaming tantalizing third novel suggests the answer would be a resounding yes.

Safely ensconced in their daily lives, the characters in “Don’t I Know You?” cling desperately to comfortable, superficial images of their loved ones, no matter how much those images run counter to the facts. It’s disturbing enough to suspect these people might be liars and cheats, but what if they’re rapists or even killers? gamers How easy is it to deny that someone you depend on and care for may have committed a violent crime?

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