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.”
I really wanted “The Boatmaker” to be amazing.
The jacket description was so promising… and misleading. “Reluctant hero” and “destructive love affair” are interesting descriptions for a man who would more accurately be referred to as an emotionally abusive (and at times physically violent) alcoholic who himself had been abused by his mother, who shacks up with a prostitute for as long as his money lasts. He returns again once he’s sold off his only valuables to throw more money at the woman. Which happened to be about 70 pages that did nothing for the story or forward momentum of the plot other than making the boatmaker out to be an aggressive psychologically abusive drunk.
When the boatmaker reaches the Mainland the novel hits its main narrative stride, and this probably could have functioned on its own with only a chapter or two to introduce the boatmaker and the quest his fever dream has set him on, rather than the 130 pages of set up and unnecessary exposition that exists. The novel, as well as the boatmaker, spend this next arc redeeming themselves and creating a story that’s truly engaging. The boatmaker’s journey through the Mainland and his experiences there understanding money, religion, prejudice, and redemption was addicting. It took me six months to get to that point, and a week to read the other three quarters of the novel.
The consistency of style is the most impressive thing about this book, and worth reading for such a technically well executed novel, despite the story itself, the meandering and elusive point of it all, lacking in satisfaction by its end.
Or maybe that was its intention…