The Incredible Shrinking Man

Book Review: The One Inside by Sam Shepard

 

Everyone of a certain age has experienced it: an almost imperceptive loss of stature, that skosh contraction of size at first only you will notice. It is measurable although you may be loathe to measure it; the distance from heel to crown has declined. You've shrunk; perhaps not only in height but by analogy in relevance. It's a subject the playwright Sam Shepard has addressed in his first attempt at long form prose (at 172 pages we'll call it a novel). The One Inside amplifies this anatomical loss through dreams and metaphor, forcing the main character to confront the agents of his self deprecation.

Shepard's unnamed protagonist, awakes at five a.m. to the "cackle" of coyotes, they've killed something yonder. We immediately sense some inner unrest, thoughts assault him. He's been an actor, a writer, we learn of a sudden break up of a thirty-year marriage. The numbness is wearing off. The time is rife for reconciliation. Where to start? With one's old man of course. A Father who has transformed for him, reminiscent of Bruno Schultz's crab-dad in the short story Father's Last Escape, into an eight inch saran wrapped mummy; albeit one caught sunbathing and prone to dart wounds.

As he recalls the bleak landscape of his childhood other characters emerge as through a kaleidoscope: Pop flying a B17, as bomber pilot, then later as feed-lot worker; Felicity, a restless teen, accomplice to illicit affairs; Blackmail Girl, an ambitious would be novelist. These and other scattered memories will begin to coalesce into a more focused image for Shepard's lead. It is an image he must not only confront but study; make his thesis. The dissertation on one's life is merely a starting point.

Shepard's novel is constructed of very short vignettes, snapshots, some dreams, some memories, an apt approach at conveying the fractured condition of our soul searcher. Fractured would seem to indicate a solid structure to begin with; in this case, a kind of protective shell the protagonist has formed around his essential spirit. So it will be through cracks in this shell we find The One Inside of Shepard's title, if a bit shrunken and less imposing so be it, at least still alive and in tact, ready for release, resolved to navigate an imperfect, slightly larger world.

~ 4.5 Stars



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