I’ve been a fan of Sam Shepard for a while, and not just because he and his wife the actress Jessica Lange lived in my town for 10 years (and when I was in high school he read a few of my stories, long story).
Shepard is out with a new collection of stories, Day Out of Days. He has had two stories published in The New Yorker in the last few months (here is one) and they have been subtle, wry tales of relationships and aging, written with his usual imagination and precision.
“Have you got a girlfriend?” she asks me out of the blue.
“A girlfriend?” I say, checking to see if our daughter has overheard this, but she, too, has been lulled to sleep by the heat.
“Yes, that’s right. A girlfriend,” my wife repeats.
“Where did this come from?”
“Don’t act so surprised. You could very easily have a girlfriend and I’d never know it, would I? How would I know?”
“I’m sixty. Those days are over.”
This is not the Sam Shepard of the 1960s, ’70s and 80s, when he wrote edgy plays like “Buried Child” and “Fool for Love.” Those were the works of a young writer pushing the envelope of art, challenging convention, and expressing a dark, modern vision.
Today, his work seems to have mellowed in subject matter, as he is a father and husband and getting a bit older. His last collection, Great Dream of Heaven, was well-written, but the subject matter frankly focused a bit too much on his time in Stillwater, shuttling the kids to school and the such.
This review of Day out of Days on NewWest.net gives me the idea that his latest effort has more in common with his 1997 collection Cruising Paradise, and finds him returning to the western U.S. and its cowboys, con men, cheap motels and long open highways:
Day out of Days is a road trip of the spirit through the American West, a book that should cure anyone’s mental rut with its quirky tales and unexpected observations. In this collection, Sam Shepard has proved himself an enormously inventive writer, working in territory that seems familiar, but that proves to be surprising and revelatory.