Sam Shepard completed final edits on his life’s final book days before passing away in the summer of 2017. The last written work from the actor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of more than 55 plays is Spy of the First Person, a short but intense exploration of memory, mortality and ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
The novella is presented as a series of loosely connected fragments, with spare and rhythmic prose that offers rich descriptions of places and memories. The nontraditional format tells of a man reflecting on his life in the face of grave illness. He meditates on family history, his role as a father and his increasing dependence on others as his physical form deteriorates. In visceral prose, Shepard describes the odd sensations and fatalism of the man’s body as it transforms around his still sharp mind. Much of the narrative is dedicated to the world of memory, and Shepard’s delicately prepared imagery evokes the scents of long-emptied apartments, the eclectic sounds of northern California neighborhoods and the colors of decades-old relationships.
For fans of Shepard’s plays or those who enjoy an experimental look at mortality, Spy of the First Person is unflinching in its examination and generous in its appreciation of life’s countless small beauties.