cover image You Think That's Bad: Stories

You Think That's Bad: Stories

Jim Shepard, Knopf, $24.95 (268p) ISBN 978-0-307-59482-2

The protagonists in Shepard's elegant, darkly tinged stories of love, sometimes misplaced, are searching for something. There's Freya Stark, the ambitious heroine in "The Track of the Assassins," who sets out in 1930 across the Middle East desert with only a guide, a muleteer, and Marco Polo's Travels. Or the narrator of "Netherlands Lives with Water," who grapples with changes in global climate, relationships, and life in Rotterdam, all the while searching for a solution and knowing deep down there isn't one. In "Happy Crocodiles," a miserable WWII G.I. stuck in New Guinea thinks about his stateside girlfriend and her puzzling relationship with his brother while trying to survive the elements and the enemy. As in his earlier Like You'd Understand, Anyway, Shepard's characters cover a wide swath of experience: Department of Defense black ops researchers, avalanche scientists, the inventor of Godzilla. Or they're 38 and living with their mother, like Martin in "Boys Town." There's humor in unexpected places, particularly as glaciers melt and waters rise in "Netherlands," which reminds us that though what we've lost might be different, we're all missing something. (Mar.)