I felt a sense of guilt as I started reading this collection of short stories by Sam Shepard. It seemed as if I was reading someone’s journal, their diary, with all their personal ramblings being exposed to me, a stranger. I got over that, and went on to really enjoy this collection that contains very short stories, snippets of conversations, memories, poems, observations, and random musings. Shepard writes in the voice of a distant loner, hardened by truth and reality but still seeking, looking for a kind of lost artifact or talisman.
Some of the poems have titles, but most are simple and unadorned. Without the title (and sometimes without punctuation) you are left to figure out the point, and each reader could likely come away with a different impression.
Horses racing men
Mummies on the mend
What’s all this gauze bandaging
Unraveled down the stairs
Has come apart
Something without end (p. 126)
In “Rosebud, South Dakota (Highway 83 North)” he describes a deceptively simple scene:
Lakota church, “Open to Anyone”, it says, but no one’s here. Not a single sorry soul. And it’s the Sabbath too. Imagine that. Sunday abandoned. Just constant wind ripping across the tattered yards and buried fences. Constant endless prairie breath. Like it’s always been. Now and evermore. Unrelenting. Raw. And could care less about the state of the Union.
Shepard’s subjects are dry, tired, lost, searching, guilty, sarcastic, sardonic, and grim. They inhabit truck stops, rest stops, desert paths and windy valleys. Remarkably, reading these doesn’t feel depressing or dispiriting. Instead, it’s almost like putting a story behind that stranger you noticed outside the diner’s plate glass window, or hitchhiking outside of town, or passing you on the open rural road in that old dirty Ford pickup.
Special thanks to Lauren Helman at Knopf for this Advanced Reading Copy.