The 11 short stories in Jim Shepard's newest collection focus on familial bonds ravaged by ill-advised ventures, catastrophic miscalculations, and natural disasters around the world and across time. In "The First South Central Australian Expedition," a 19th-century explorer combs the desert for a nonexistent inland sea, with devastating results. Two Nazis trek across Tibet in search of the origins of the Aryan race in "Ancestral Legacies." "The Zero Meter Diving Team" describes the bureaucratic incompetence leading up to the Chernobyl disaster and its effects on three brothers. In all the stories, men (and one woman) face grim and uncompromising ordeals that test and push them to their limits.
Knopf. 224 pages. $23. ISBN: 0307265218
"Drawn to extreme places and hopeless causes, Shepard writes utterly captivating stories that combine the best of psychological acuity with the visceral pleasure of dramatic encounters and good old-fashioned suspense and adventure. ... Shepard's gutsy, brilliantly imagined, strongly made, fresh and propulsive stories grapple with follies minor and major, deliver us to the wilderness at the heart of the human psyche, and explode and reassemble our vision of the carnival we call civilization." Donna Seaman
"It's not just the precision of the sentences, or the wonderfully constructed narratives, or the richness of his characters, or how despite the temporal shifts and changing voices there is an amazing consistency and timelessness that unites all of the stories. It is the way he captures people throughout time with such an exact piercing, as though he's mapped out every corresponding nerve that can make us go weak in the knees." Adam Braver
"Shepard is a terrific mimic, and manages to give each one of his narrators a slightly different voice, wrinkling some stories with subtle irony, lending others the pomp and swagger of a professional boxer before a bouquet of journalist's microphones. ... What's most remarkable about these stories, in the end, is how gently Shepard wraps the most extremely foreign and obscure events around emotional dilemmas common to all of us." John Freeman
NY Times Book Review
"Shepard is an impressive writer, but I wasn't impressed until I finished the book: I was too busy being enthralled. ... 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." Daniel Handler
Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Reading these stories one after another is a bit like sitting in the ER at 3 a.m. on a Saturday. You could get a skewed view of the world." Trisha Springstubb
"Its skewed, sometimes droll vision of people under pressure or frequently hopeless circumstances is mostly entertaining, but takes some getting used to." Bob Hoover
Recently nominated for the National Book Award, Jim Shepard's latest collection of short stories struck a chord with reviewers, who couldn't agree on which stories were the best. Though each story is related through first-person testimony, Shepard gives each narrator his or her own voice with its own subtle nuances, and he masterfully sets the characters' internal conflicts at odds with their external predicaments. The characters are convincing despite the incredible dilemmas they face, and the stories themselves are at once deadly serious and darkly humorous. Shepard's tales may be bleak: some reviewers found the unrelenting hopelessness a bit wearying and urged readers to savor them one at a time. Yet Shepard's compassion and sympathy shine through in what reviewers claim is his best work yet.
Also by the Author
Project X (2004): In this subtle and original look at Columbine-style school shootings, Jim Shepard expertly imagines the loneliness and humiliation of two disaffected teens whose only consolation lies in thoughts of violent vengeance. Many hailed this full-length novel as superior to the similarly-themed Booker Prize-winning Vernon God Little.