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’ve had a hard time reading lately. I haven’t been able to sit down and focus and really dig into anything. There’s always something else going on, something else on my mind, something else I need to do or feel guilty for not having done. The ‘Want To Read’ list on my Goodreads has become what the stacks of books that used to pile up on my desk or coffee table, the stairs or next to my night table used to be.
I’m almost afraid to buy any new books and that’s really no way to live. But I can’t even look at the two piles of books on my desk right now, partially hidden behind the rack of drying laundry I’m not folding in order to write this; one stack is the bunch of books I finished before my son was born, the ones I’ve been meaning to write reviews for so I can feel accomplished for having completed them. The other stack is all the books I’d love to get into, some are the next in the series, most are standalones. A few are even from the used book sale the Ken-Ton Library puts on every year that I was really excited to find last year—that’s the sale that just took place again, a year later, and those books still sitting where I put them.
I could say there isn’t enough time, but that isn’t really true, is it? There’s plenty of time, I just tend to sleep through it if I sit down for too long. Its tough to read a novel, no matter how good it is, if I crash after two pages. Usually one page I spend fighting it, so the next night I have to reread that last page again.
That’s part of the reason I went looking for Loren D. Estleman’s Amos Walker short stories. Maybe as a way to retrain my brain in small doses to sit down and relax, to fall into a story intended to be brief, to do something other then stare at a screen, whether its my phone or the baby monitor. Part of it was to learn something as well, to learn how one writes a compelling mystery story in only a few pages. If there’s one thing I’ve done less of then reading, its writing, and the lack of both is driving me a little crazy.
A good way to take care of both problems was Amos Walker and his short adventures Estleman wrote about to pass the time while the rights to any current and future full length Amos Walker novels were tied up between bickering publishers. Not only have I been catching up with the best private detective in Detroit by digging into Loren Estleman’s massive collection of Amos Walker short stories but I’ve maybe learned a little bit about the art and pacing and basic how-to of the mystery short story.
Not every mystery needs a convoluted plot or a handful of red herrings or tortured villains. Sometimes it’s just an old man who needs an alibi, a woman searching for her dog, a mob hit gone wrong, a couple of mob hits gone right, or a girl in a hotel room who should have known better then to answer the door….