Fathers misunderstanding sons. Brothers clashing with brothers. Men undertaking dangerous exploits in pursuit of theories that are patently absurd. Jim Shepard casts a cool yet ultimately sympathetic eye on those who perpetrate such follies and, in doing so, reveals their humanity.
The 11 stories in "Like You'd Understand, Anyway" range from an unhappy home in Connecticut to the battlefields of ancient Greece and the radiation-wracked environs of Chernobyl to the vastness of outer space. All but one have male narrators.
What links them is competition, misguided respect for hierarchy, violence and madness. Shepard, who has an emotionally ill brother, sometimes broaches that topic in his work as in "Proto-Scorpions of the Silurian," which opens: "It's a crappy rainy morning in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and I'm home from seventh grade with a sore throat and my parents and brother are fighting and I'm trying every so often to stay out of it." Shepard also takes us to the ancient Roman empire in "Hadrian's Wall" and long-ago Greece in "My Aeschylus," where the great playwright fights at Marathon alongside his brother, still, in middle age, seeking his father's love and respect. In "Sans Farine," we see life from the perspective of the guillotine-master of the French Revolution.
In "Trample the Dead, Hurdle the Weak," the time is now, the battlefield is a football field, the language is profane and the narrator also seeks his father. "Pleasure Boating in Lituya Bay" is set in Alaska, and here the subject is tsunamis and the travails of romance. "Eros 7" is told by a female cosmonaut in love.