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.”
In all his work, Shepard is after something our current literature far too often avoids. The short-story form, in particular, has fallen lately into two camps: the realistic kind (in which one of a small quiver of pyschological tropes is played out quietly in a few scenes) and the experimental kind (in which an unusual premise or point of view that would grow tiring in a novel is explored, often with a sudden twist). These are both very readable forms, and much gorgeous prose can be found stretched on their frames. Yet Shepard somehow manages to write simultaneously in both of themand neither of them. His far-ranging plots aren't illustrations of the usual conclusions, and he doesn't tackle an unusual premise just to prove that he can. Instead, he has found a route through these terrains that leads to end points both surprising and inevitable. In other words, he's telling stories. That this should feel like an original approach is testimony to how bracing his work really is…Like You'd Understand, Anyway serves as testament not only to Jim Shepard's talents but also to the power of the short story itself, forged from the world with a sharp eye and a careful ear, serving no agenda but literature's primary and oft-forgotten one: the delight of the reader.