Following his widely acclaimed Project X and Love and Hydrogen—“Here is the effect of these two books,” wrote the Chicago Tribune: “A reader finishes them buzzing with awe”—Jim Shepard now gives us his first entirely new collection in more than a decade.
Like You’d Understand, Anyway reaches from Chernobyl to Bridgeport, with a host of narrators only Shepard could bring to pitch-perfect life. Among them: a middle-aged Aeschylus taking his place at Marathon, still vying for parental approval. A maddeningly indefatigable Victorian explorer hauling his expedition, whaleboat and all, through the Great Australian Desert in midsummer. The first woman in space and her cosmonaut lover, caught in the star-crossed orbits of their joint mission. Two Texas high school football players at the top of their food chain, soliciting their fathers’ attention by leveling everything before them on the field. And the rational and compassionate chief executioner of Paris, whose occupation, during the height of the Terror, eats away at all he holds dear.
Brimming with irony, compassion, and withering humor, these eleven stories are at once eerily pertinent and dazzlingly exotic, and they showcase the work of a protean, prodigiously gifted writer at the height of his form. Reading Jim Shepard, according to Michael Chabon, “is like encountering our national literature in microcosm.”
Following the novel Project X and Love and Hydrogen: New and Selected Stories, Shepard's new collection takes in landscapes as diverse as 1986 Chernobyl in The Zero Meter Diving Team, to 1840s down under in The First South Central Australian Expedition. It's clear that Shepard has done his research in these 11 first-person tales "be it on Alaskan tidal waves for a story about a man contemplating a vasectomy while reliving a childhood tragedy in Pleasure Boating in Lituya Bay, or Sherpas and the Chang Tang tundra in Ancestral Legacies, and his precision gives the poignant longing and human emotion of the stories room to resonate. Save for Eros 7, about a lovelorn Soviet cosmonaut and set during the U.S.-Russia space race, all the stories are told by men, often with few female characters. At the core, each is essentially an exploration of familial relationships between men "be it the ill-fated trio of brothers working at the nuclear reactor or the unhappy adolescent camper calling home to find out about his mentally disturbed younger brother in Courtesy for Beginners. Shepard's far-flung explorations get very close to the male heart.