Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Shepard short story colllection a winner

Books now read in ’07: 111
Title: Like You’d Understand Anyway
Author: Jim Shepard
Genre: Fiction
Date Completed: 11-27
Pages: 211

When talking books with a friend or co-worker, it isn’t unusual for someone to observe that they never read short stories. It’s an observation that I fail to comprehend.

I like short stories. A lot. Alice Munro, William Trevor, Laurie Colwin, Ray Bradbury, T.C. Boyle and just about every issue of The New Yorker are all ample reason for me to embrace the short story. I find it a delicious and rewarding literary form, to the point that I often wonder that, as a whole, if I don’t like short stories better than novels.

The writers cited about are all vastly different in style and in content. Amid such diversity, if someone can’t find something to enjoy than I must absolutely throw my hands into the air in surrender. Or, suggest the works of Jim Shepard.

Like You’d Underway Anyway, one of five books short-listed for the 2007 National Book Award for fiction, must easily rank among the more eclectic offerings to come my way in some time. Consider – Nazis in Tibet in search of the Yeti, the chief engineer of the Chernobyl nuclear power station, a fatherless Texas football player, a 12-year-old at summer camp, a French executioner and Russia’s first woman in space are among the characters that feature in these eleven delightfully strange short stories.

A few of the stories, including the tale set at Chernobyl and the one featuring those Nazis in Tibet, would be at home in any horror anthology. One is a classic horror tale about things that go bump in the night, while the other is a distinctly modern-day cautionary tale of the horrors that a combination of bureaucracy and technology can set loose in the world.

For my taste, Trample the Dead, Hurdle the Weak, about that fatherless Texas football player is the finest story of the bunch. Shepard artfully captures the ambivalence, doubt and confusion of this young athlete who wants to be loved, but finds his only gratification through vicious on-field play.

Don’t like short stories? Perhaps you need to give Jim Shepard a go. He just might cause you to change your mind.

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