Some of you may be wondering if the author of Great Dream of Heaven is the same Sam Shepard you know from the movies. If so, then you probably don't know that Shepard is also a Pulitzer Prize winner or that this collection of eighteen stories was a finalist for the W. H. Smith Literary Award.
Shepard's sparse, spare style lets us into select moments of the lives of ordinary people, from fathers and sons, to daughters and mothers, passing strangers, and friends. Each story is almost like a scene out of a play, self-contained but well-oriented in the larger world.
The opening story, "The Remedy Man," begins:
E.V. made no bones about it; he was not a horse whisperer by any stretch. He was a remedy man. He could fix bad horses, and when he fixed them they stayed fixed. That's all he laid claim to. (p. 3)
In a single afternoon, a young boy overcomes his childish fears, starts to see his father from another perspective, and catches hold of possibilities.
Despite the obvious love and mutual caretaking between grandfather and grandson, the superficiality of communication and typical reticence of an adolescent boy is beautifully captured in "The Door to Women." In the one long paragraph that makes up "Foreigners" we learn the ups and downs of owning a small café and the happiness of a marriage.
In the poignant title story, Dean and Sherman, old men whose families have grown up and moved on, share their daily rituals in a small bungalow on the dusty plains of South Dakota. Part of their routine is to put on their best clothes, including matching bolas and Stetsons, and walk down to the Denny's to watch Faye wait on tables.
The days of the "gentleman" were long dead but they made their appearance at Denny's each day at noon to remind Faye that her sort of beauty was a great blessing in the midst of all this sad madness. She appreciated it too. Her face always brightened a notch or two when she'd see them waiting by the cashier. (p. 131)
Of course, they never talk about Faye, each imagining he is alone in his thoughts. But what if one of them were to visit Faye without the other?
Although I have never been drawn to short stories, I am a huge Sam Shepard fan. He provides us with just enough of the right moments of his characters' lives to leave us wondering but never unsatisfied.
Sam Shepard has a website where you can learn more about his books, films, and plays.