Batting Against Castro

Jim Shepard’s short stories demonstrate an astonishing range of imagination, mystery, humor, and an abiding humanity. The carefully crafted pieces in this collection are divided into two sections, “Strangers” and “Family.” All of the stories share the themes of alienation, perseverance, and endurance.

In the title story, “Batting Against Castro,” three marginal American professional baseball players journey to prerevolutionary Cuba to revive their flagging careers and find themselves in the middle of a political drama between Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista and rebel Fidel Castro. The deliciously satisfying climax comes when the narrator faces Castro in an improbable showdown. Baseball, the national pastime of both the United States and Cuba, serves a metaphor for the strained relations between the two countries.

“Spending the Night with the Poor,” illustrates Shepard’s ability to portray a wide range of characters convincingly. Lynn, a well-intentioned and sensitive teenaged girl, reveals much about perceptions of class and caste in America.

“Nosferatu” presents the imaginary diary of F. W. Murnau, director of the classic 1922 film NOSFERATU. Shepard’s meticulous research and insights into Murnau’s psyche makes the piece convincingly autobiographical rather than a fantasy.

In “Runway,” a seemingly normal family man, has a strange and disturbing hobby. He often takes mysterious walks alone in the evening and ends up trespassing onto a nearby airport runway, where he plays a dangerous game of Russian Roulette with landing aircraft. He stretches out on the tarmac, advancing closer to the touch-down point on each successive visit. A dramatic conclusion reveals his secret to his family but the reader never learns what compels his self-destructive behavior.

“Krakatau” chronicles the lives of two brothers—one “too disturbed to function and not disturbed enough to be put away.” The other is a geologist, obsessed with the study of the volcanoes which represent his brother’s periodic and unpredictable violent outbursts.

While Shepard often ends his stories abruptly and does not always provide insights into his characters’ motivations, BATTING AGAINST CASTRO is a memorable collection that captivates the reader and makes a lasting impression.