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The Good Shepard

Sam Shepard's new anthology of short fiction offers his trademark humor and lyricism.

Book Cover In baseball lingo, Sam Shepard is at least a four-tool talent—writer, playwright, screenwriter (Paris, Texas), and actor. As an actor Shepard has made valuable contributions to some memorable films (Days of Heaven, The Right Stuff), and he has written over 40 plays (The God of Hell, Buried Child), many winning awards including one Pulitzer Prize. Add to his bibliography two prose anthologies (Motel Chronicles and Hawk Moon), and with his new book, Day out of Days (Knopf), three short-fiction collections.

Much of the landscape for these stories (there are 133 short tales, dialogues, vignettes, lyrics, and fragments woven together) is the American West of Shepard’s imagination—a terrain of empty spaces and drifters and strange places. A man is trapped overnight in a fast food place having to listen endlessly to Shania Twain songs on the sound system; if you find that funny (and horrific at the same time, as I do), that’s Shepard’s perverse sense of humor in evidence as it is through this compendium. Which includes the recurrence of a talking severed head in a wicker basket that gets another character (an unnamed man) to do his bidding, as in “Haskell, Arkansas
(Highway 70)”:
“I was beheaded,” says the head.
“How?” asks the man.
“By a gleaming silver saber,” says the head.

“But who held the saber? Who brought it down on your neck?”

“I never saw it coming,” says the head.

“But you must have known it was coming,” says the man.

“Yes, but it didn’t help.”

“What?” says the man.

“Knowing. Knowing didn’t help.”

“So, you have no idea who it might have been?” asks the man.

“I have many ideas but it doesn’t matter now.”

“Don’t you want to seek your vengeance?” asks the man. The head starts laughing and can’t stop. “Don’t laugh at me!” screams the man. The head stops. “I can’t stand that,” says the man. “All my life I’ve been laughed at.”

“I’m sorry,” says the head.

“I can’t carry you, that’s for sure. You’re way too heavy,” says the man and the head begins to weep. Tears roll out of the squinting eyes.

“Don’t do that,” says the man. “I can’t stand it if you do that…”
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