Lately, I have been on a short story kick. Perhaps with my kiddos home with me for the summer, I can only find time to read in short increments which is just fine with me because I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else besides savoring every minute I can with my squirts.
So, while searching for books in the short story genre, I came across Sam Shepards’s Day out of Days. Having enjoyed his work on the big screen, I was anxious to discover his writing.
Immediately I was taken with Shepard’s choice of epigraph, a quote from Samuel Beckett, “That’s the mistake I made . . . to have wanted a story for myself, whereas life alone is enough.” I found this quote fascinating as I once read (can’t recall where now) an interview with Shepard where he was compared to the above Irish author.
Shepard’s writing style is conversational to the point I felt as if he was in the same room with me telling me stories. In “The Lost Art of Wandering,” Shepard captures the reality of human misunderstandings in speech and gesture through the telling of an American assisting a German stranger. When the German man repeatedly offers the American money for solving the problem with his Kodak camera and the American matches each offering with a refusal, a fist fight nearly ensues until eventually the money is lost to them both when two children snatch the bills and run away. The absurdity of the situation simply brings to light how quickly good intentions can result in less than savory outcomes.
“Normal (Highway 39 South)” again offers the reader the complex in what some can construe as mundane when considering “. . . scrapings on the steel frame of the window” (210) in a jail cell. What one prisoner may glance over or miss altogether, the narrator goes to great length contemplating how such marks could be made so high when all pocket contents are confiscated from people once arrested and held. One scenario the storyteller envisions is that the one being held must have used a zipper to create such markings, but ponders, “. . . how anyone [could] manage to get their crotch up that high to the window frame without being spotted through the thick glass by one of the zealous young officers in crew cuts” (210). Yes, by this time I was giggling aloud on a flight to the happiest place on earth.
Speaking of flights, in “Land of the Living,” the narrator while conversing with his wife in the customs line describes his euphoria when he survives travel by airplane:
I always feel like I’m actually going to die when I get on an airplane. Like this is it, the end of the line; inevitable. Then, after we land and get back on dry land it feels as though I’ve lived through a certain kind of death and come out the other end. (226).
Thus, a prime example of an author writing what he/she knows as Shepard has revealed in interviews his distaste for flying. Thus, his description accurately (spooky accurately, in fact) summarized my own less than favorable thoughts about flying.
A keen representation of the human essence with all its unique characteristics, Sam Shepard’s Day out of Days is a must read.