Magazine article The Spectator

Splinters and Doodles

Magazine article The Spectator

Splinters and Doodles

Article excerpt

CRUISING PARADISE by Sam Shepard Secker, L15.99, pp. 242 few writers - Chekhov, Pirandello and Maugham at once come to mind have achieved equal distinction in fiction and drama. But on the evidence of this collection of 'tales' (as the dust-jacket terms them), fiction is no more than a subsidiary occupation for the brilliant American dramatist Sam Shepard, along with his other subsidiary occupations, acting, the directing of films and the playing of rock music.

Shepard has always been obsessed with barren lives in barren places. Out of the emotional desert in which his characters subsist, a geyser of violent feeling suddenly erupts, in most cases not to irrigate their existences but to obliterate them with its scalding force. The most memorable story, a model of terseness and audacity, about such a life is `The Package Man', in which a cattle hand finds himself sitting at a bar next to a stranger who at once subjects him to a relentlessly rambling monologue. The cattle hand barely responds. The story ends with the sound of a shot from the lavatory of the bar. Unable to communicate with anyone and therefore alone in his private hell, the stranger has killed himself.

There are three or four other stories almost as good as this, among them a dazzling account of a terminal row between a man and his wife in a South Dakota hotel, and a brief, haunting anecdote about a man who unwittingly fathers a son for a lesbian couple. Most of the other tales, however, read as though they were sharp, glittering splinters from works either still to be completed or abandoned. …

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