22 May 2009

Review: Great Dream of Heaven by Sam Shepard

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.

Great Dream of Heaven at an Indie

Published by Knopf, 2003
ISBN-13: 9780375704529
Challenges: 999, 100+
YTD: 39
Rating: A


Sandy Nawrot 5/22/09, 9:32 AM  

You have caught my attention! I had never heard of this author (just the actor!), but his kind of style has my vote. I have to say this, superficial as it may seem...I love that cover. Love, love, love.

Sandy Nawrot 5/22/09, 9:33 AM  

I have no business reading this right now, with my pile as it is, but I just ordered it from the library...

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) 5/22/09, 9:35 AM  

Sam Shepard is amazing. I was fortunate enough to see a play that he wrote while I was visiting Toronto with my mom and it was so good! Megan Follows of Anne of Green Gables was in it. I guess that's how it first caught my attention. I had no idea that he wrote shorts stories as well.

Beth F 5/22/09, 9:38 AM  

Sandy: I added the word "also" -- it is the same person.

Nicole: you are soooo lucky. I have never seen any of his plays performed on stage. And with Megan Follows, too! He really is amazingly talented.

gautami tripathy 5/22/09, 9:40 AM  

Wonderful review. I better check him out.

Julie P. 5/22/09, 10:19 AM  

Great review. One of my reading goals is to read more short stories!

SmilingSally 5/22/09, 10:25 AM  

I LOVE short stories!

bethany (dreadlock girl) 5/22/09, 12:27 PM  

Loved that review! I love short stories. I just got a load of them that will keep me busy for some time. I was thinking of mostly reading short stories over the summer.

Thanks for sharing this title!!

Unknown 5/22/09, 1:55 PM  

I'm not normally a fan of short stories either - they always leave me wanting more. In fact I'm beginning to find that even short books (less than 250 pages) seem a bit weak at the moment. I think I'm going through a 'the bigger the better stage' so I'll make a note of Sam Shepard, and save him for when short stories are back in my favour!

Jeanne 5/22/09, 2:29 PM  

I'll have to check this one out. I occasionally like this kind of sparse style. His style reminds me of Cormac McCarthy's.

Belle 5/22/09, 3:43 PM  

I love Sam Shepard's plays! I've never read his short stories, though. They sound great ... another one for my tbr list.

Margot 5/22/09, 4:47 PM  

This looks like a nice literary twist for me. I usually read authors who ramble and are very wordy, as am I. I could use a little sparse and spare. The first quote got me but the second one also makes me want to read that story of the two gentlemen at Denny's. I think I know those two guys.

Kristi 5/22/09, 5:52 PM  

I had no idea Sam Shepard was an author. What a talented and BUSY guy. I checked out his website that you linked--how does he have time to do all of that?! Amazing. Anyway, I'll have to check out his books. I love him as an actor. Thanks for the review!

bermudaonion 5/22/09, 9:29 PM  

I never knew Sam Shepard is so multi-faceted! The book sounds great.

Carrie K. 5/22/09, 10:52 PM  

I've read Shepard's plays - but never his short fiction. Will have to look for this one!

S. Krishna 5/23/09, 12:12 AM  

This sounds great. Thanks for the review!

Molly 5/23/09, 8:44 AM  

I tend not to read short stories either, but this sounds like a great place to start!

I wanted to let you know that I gave you the "you don't say" award today :)

Have a great Memorial Day weekend!

Anonymous,  5/23/09, 10:21 AM  

i enjoy short stories--i love how the authors have to develop characters, exposition, and plot in such limited space. i didn't realize that shepard was also a writer! thanks for the tip, i'll have to make a point to check this out.

Lynda 5/23/09, 11:30 AM  

Love the sound of this - especially as I'm into short stories now. thanks ;0)

Ali 5/23/09, 1:36 PM  

I've really enjoyed Shepherd's plays that I've read and see, but didn't realize he'd written short stories. I'll have to check this out!

Anonymous,  5/25/09, 6:07 PM  

He is such an interesting actor, but I had no idea he was an author as well! I'll have to look for him.

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