Phase Six, by Jim Shepard: The Maestro is Back

Talented writers predict the future. Not because they have supernatural powers, but because they have a deep understanding of history and the human condition. They see what’s going to happen because they know what’s going on. I’m not surprised that my friend Jim Shepard set out several years ago to write a novel about a pandemic that unleashes suffering, chaos and fear across the globe—and that it turned out to be prophetic. Phase Six has all the traits that set Jim’s work apart. Prodigious research that brings people and places alive—from a remote coastal settlement in Greenland to a top-security U.S. government lab in Montana–and makes complex science comprehensible. An ear for dialogue and an eye for detail. Profound empathy, especially for children, like the 11-year-old Patient Zero at the heart of the narrative. And a storytelling voice full of wisdom and wry humor. I was blown away by the insightful portrait of the main protagonists, two brave women who are disease detectives for the Centers for Disease Control; I recently did months of in-depth reporting about the CDC and got to know the institution and the people well. Phase Six reaffirms Jim Shepard as one of America’s finest living fiction writers. That’s one reason I call him the Maestro. The other is because he was my professor in college many years ago. He’s a big reason I became a writer, and he has my enduring admiration, affection and gratitude.

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