The One Inside
(Alfred A Knopf)
The late Sam Shepard outdid himself in the production of such idosyncratic do-dads as ladies and sex, barking dogs, dart throwing, young, very young ladies (known in the trade as jail-bait), father/son competition over jail-bait, World War II, noisy raccoons, suicides, sex and ladies coming and going . . . speaking not of Michaelangelo but of Blackmail. There were also little creepy-crawlies flowing out of open mouths, ladies and sex, rape, drunks, making movies and, in general a befuddling of the readers with a consistent defying of the niceties of linear exposition, with a distinct affection for repetition, filled with laconic conversations that seem to go nowhere, endlessly, with singular laconic purposelessness . . . and again and again (and again) little weenie human bodies laid out on the dirt, wrapped in saran wrap, in what could have the touchstone of all of The One Inside - - - might have been indeed a better predictive title for the book, None of These Characters Look like Actors but They All Seem to be Playing a Role.
I suspect that Shepherd fans will be beside themselves with the unwieldy unravelling of the plot here, especially those who are fond of May/December tropes. Out there in Coalinga cattle country - - - where the cows are impounded awaiting the executioner's song, fed fat, hard green pellets of preprocessed food and chemicals to make them blow up so they can be marketed fatly. This was apparently Shepard's father's late-in-life work, the old man knee-deep in cattle poop, the young one scanning nervously from afar, the two of them playing out, in their laconic western way, sometimes in the same house . . . apparently loathing each other. Until Felicity appears on the scene.
Being of a young and delicate age - - - Felicity, the lascivious jail-bait in question - - - gets it on with the old man until he abandons her. Which doesn't stop her from appearing regularly to seek him out, but since he has apparently thought better of her and it and them, she and Sam - - - he having barely reached the cusp of puberty - - - end up doing the beast on the floor where
The floorboards were rock hard on my knees. The rag rug slipped away and I swam on top of her, flailing as though I'd never make it to the other side. She began screaming and making those same noises she'd made with my father the first time. It thought sure her voice might carry for at least twenty acres. Over the heads of grazing cattle, frantic lizards.
The boy is convinced that his steely old man will suddenly appear in the door as the couple are en media res, but fortunately for all concerned, "I rode her like a pony trying to stay on" and the old bastard never pops up.
"It was an incredible mess" he tells us. We need no convincing. Fortunately, Shepard rounds out the grisly scene with one of his typical idiopathic images, cagily designed to queer the whole scene,
Her mouth opened and I saw tiny animals escaping: tiny animals trapped inside her all the time. They flew out as though something might catch them and drag them back to imprisonment. I could feel them land on my face and crawl thought my hair, searching for a hiding place. Each time she screamed the animals flew out in small clouds like tiny gnats: little dragons, flying fish, headless horses.
§ § §
Just to make sure that we get to keep our literary sense of balance, sixty-five years later Sam Shepard turns up in the latter part of The One Inside himself as December toting a new but eerie shadow of the previous May. This passion pot, named the Blackmail Lady goes about with him in his film career as a fusty actor in a mysterious shoot that brings us back out into the boonies where he grew up, with the corn and the raccoons and the cows and little mouth-buggies and the usual industrial lust.
Blackmail Lady is so named because she has recorded their conversations on the telephone and tells him she has complete transcripts and is going to publish their jawings as her upcoming novel, which soon, we can assume, will be an other major motion picture.
Blackmail Lady as befits yet another on-again off-again Shepard manqué goes about in revelatory fashion: "She grabs a pear and clamps her teeth around it, then drops her long overcoat and sits with her knees propped up. She's entirely naked except for the dark purple [nail] polish. She chomps into the pear and says it's too hot for clothes. Juice runs down her neck."
Suddenly the costume team bursts into the trailer hauling shirts on wire hangers over their shoulders. Blackmail Girl doesn't even turn toward them, just keeps working on my collar with her tongue hanging out. The team stands there stunned by the nudity. One of them starts back outside. The other one remains stoically and says "Sorry, I should've knocked."
Which is what many of us must feel as we hack our way through this jittery little - - - what is it? - - - memorabilia? autobiographical squib? another in the fascinating life-and-times of S. S? Should we have knocked before entering? Because with Shepherd's surety about his don't-ever-forget-I'm-the-star pose, the rest of may begin to bvelieve that we will not be able to live up to his standards, albeit being perfect readers of this this picture-perfect feuilleton that he has shipped off to us for what (it works out to be) $25.95 for the volume; weighing in at 172 pages, means 5.74¢ a page.
Which I am sure he would want us, in whatever bario he is floating about in right now, to know know that it is probably top value.