It is unlikely that the evolution of Sam Shepard as an accomplished writer of short fiction comes as any great surprise to those of us who read him. Each book throughout the course of his life ages right along beside him. By 2010 his voice has become wizened and mature, and with it he acknowledges his own frailties as a human being in his attempts at getting along in the world and with others. His personal relationships, though long, are somewhat disruptive and not without a revolving wheel of baggage that certainly seems the cause of all his repeating issues. But Sam is such a comfort for me to read. I can relate to almost all he has to write about, and even his wildest imaginations on the page seem to carry me places I have always been willing and perhaps subconsciously intending to go.
It is possible that Sam Shepard will have much more to say as he continues to practice his craft by his doing it almost constantly. Unlike myself, who manages to find writing time in longish spurts when I block out the time to commit myself to a serious attempt at forging something of consequence, Sam takes his notebook along with him wherever he goes and jots down what he sees and thinks about things, it seems, relentlessly. He appears to never rest from this literary labor. I am so envious. I wish I were a different sort of man who might conduct this same practice and discipline in my own life. But then, that would presume I had something to say of note and matter. I am afraid I am more of a listener who then enjoys reporting on things he has learned from mistakes he and others have made. I am not good at making things up from scratch, nor do I think Sam is either. But thank goodness for his notebook and journals.
After viewing the documentary Shepard and Dark
and then reading their selected letters to each other I like to think I have come to know these two guys intimately. When I came upon the story early in this collection titled San Juan Bautista (Highway 90 West)
I immediately already knew the three characters involved in the tale. Sam Shepard, Johnny Dark, and Dennis Ludlow had all been previously introduced to me in other writings I have read. The story was so much fun as I could see and hear Sam and Johnny throughout. Of course a few of the earlier stories in this collection were in their way preparing me for this more personal take on friendship and aging. Grief, sadness, and despair never take a back seat in any of these short tales. A person in his own state and age for reflecting back on a life and what it has meant would be best served by being prepared, well-rested, and warmly fed before taking on the reading of these texts. The absolute certainty of embarking on a long haul with Shepard is not for the feint of heart, nor somebody having weak knees.
One of the most memorable shorts came nearer to the end. It was a more longish piece detailing a trip the family made to their favorite winter destination. Land of the Living
portends the trouble and eventual breakup between partners and parents. It was all too real, and still, I miss it. Having finished reading this book I feel a bit out of sorts, as my Sam Shepard fest has come too near to its close. But I am not sure I would have appreciated the stories of Sam Shepard as much had I not first seen the film and read the letters between Johnny and Sam. Their back story is more important than anything I have read, and with some luck, it just might continue.