Reading the description for Sam Shepard’s posthumous short novel, “Spy of the First Person”, I’m immediately reminded of Paul Harding’s ‘Tinkers’, and C.S. Richardson’s ‘The End of the Alphabet’. Both novels feature main characters faced with their impending death, and forced to search their pasts and consider their limited futures for meaning and validation. Each goes about it in completely different yet equally beautiful ways and if you’ve read and enjoyed Shepard’s final book, I’d recommend checking both of those novels out.
How do you share the experience of dying? Of slowly losing control, not simply of your life, but of your body itself, and carry on knowing the end is bearing down on you? How does that change a person?
From the Publisher:
“The final work from the Pulitzer Prize–winning writer, actor, and musician, drawn from his transformative last days
In searing, beautiful prose, Sam Shepard’s extraordinary narrative leaps off the page with its immediacy and power. It tells in a brilliant braid of voices the story of an unnamed narrator who traces, before our rapt eyes, his memories of work, adventure, and travel as he undergoes medical tests and treatments for a condition that is rendering him more and more dependent on the loved ones who are caring for him. The narrator’s memories and preoccupations often echo those of our current moment—for here are stories of immigration and community, inclusion and exclusion, suspicion and trust. But at the book’s core, and his, is family—his relationships with those he loved, and with the natural world around him. Vivid, haunting, and deeply moving, Spy of the First Person takes us from the sculpted gardens of a renowned clinic in Arizona to the blue waters surrounding Alcatraz, from a New Mexico border town to a condemned building on New York City’s Avenue C. It is an unflinching expression of the vulnerabilities that make us human—and an unbound celebration of family and life.”
For George Saunders, “crafting a good story means not condescending to your reader. It means creating sentences that clue them into something unnoticed about the character, and allowing them to figure it out.”
Cleaning up my bookshelves the other day I came across George Saunders’ absurd, humorous and terrifying short novel, “The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil”. It’s been a few years at least since I read it, but every time I notice it on the shelf I want to pick it up and become reacquainted with it.
It was one of those books I came across while working in the stockroom at Barnes & Noble, was intrigued by but promptly forgot the title and author of as I unpacked forty or fifty more boxes. So it was some time later that, needing to de-stress after a shift, I wandered up and down the fiction aisle just glancing at spines looking for clever titles that sounded interesting.
(This is the exact same scenario that led me to “The End of the Alphabet” so I think I can safely say the ‘wandering around picking books entirely because of interesting titles’ method works well for me.)
Anyway, I stumbled back upon George and Phil and this thin, yet eye-catching book. In fact, I am between books right now, I may need to stumble upon it again today….
In the meantime, you should check out George Saunders Explaining How to Tell a Good Story from The Atlantic.