So as some of you may know by now, I'm not a fan of short stories. I feel like if a story and an author are good enough, it should be a novel (or at least a novella). A 15-25 page story is just a summary, an outline of an idea that is underdone or something that is just so flimsy it shouldn't be written in the first place. And, I hate having to get into a story again every 20ish pages. So, the best possible rating for a book of short stories is a 4 star...so this one ain't bad.
Several of the reviews on goodreads talk about the amazing creativity of Shepard. I agree, to a point. Yes, his characters and settings appear to be very diverse, but that (I would propose) is the point of this collection. The thing that makes these stories a collection (and not just a book of stories, good for you Shepard) is that they all encompass two (or more) of these ten theme/motifs: weapons/army munitions development or usage; depression/dissatisfaction; tedium of married life; husband/father as emotionally distant and/or physically gone; extreme weather conditions (snow/ice, deserts, rain); one brother taking advantage of another's innocence; war; cows; dead children; disappointed fathers. I know it sounds like a big list, but most of the stories have several of these and I think ultimately Shepard's point is the opposite of Tolsoy's: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." In this case, we are all dysfunctional in similar ways.
There were also several quotes that I found amusing or interesting:
"I answered that the discontented were the least capable of living with only themselves, since the same goad that drove them to isolation would spoil their solitude as well. The true traveler left not to renounce but to seek."
"But we look on everyone's transformations as fluid except our own."
"Remember when you told me that the one thing physics teaches you is that the reality you think you observe doesn't have much to do with the reality that's out there?"
"People talk about, Oh this kid's sick and that kid's bipolar and this and that and I always say, Well, does he piss all over himself? And the answer's always no. That's because he chooses to go to the bathroom. Because he knows better. He controls himself. People control what they do."
"The difference between us and addicts was that you never got us to admit that anything was wrong with what we loved to do."
Overall, it wasn't a bad read. Personally, I did not care for a few of the stories (at the end of March living in WI I am really rather done with ice and snow and don't want to read about it), but I recognize their worth and Shepard's overarching argument.