This gorgeously-conceived and -written memoir is simply delicious to hear. Bill Pullman reads it, sounding so much like Shepard’s remembered craggy, crusty voice crossing the ranges of a human heart on its journey from teen to seventy years. He is sly, self-serving, and somehow sincere, still sexy, selective, remembering his father’s young mistress, confusing us and himself about when he eventually becomes his father (now “one year older than his father was when he died”) and when any indiscretions become his own.
"…forty years of movie sets….a great blue heron waiting for a frog to rise… the wind moans through the aspens…and Nabokov says the reason he writes is ‘aesthetic bliss’…"Patti Smith, Shepard’s long time friend and one-time lover, writes the Foreword and she claims the memoir is both “him, sort of him, and not him at all,” containing “altered perspectives, lucid memory, and hallucinatory impressions.” Reading it, we think we know what might be real and what will always be desire. He is a man of a certain age, one foot in the grave and one hand on his genitals; his descriptions of the twenty-something wearing a pink frilly skirt, sitting straight up, knees together, her spine not touching the back of the chair, recall to us hunger, sharp smells, flavor, and oh yes, something the old man had never forgotten….his first lover, the red-haired Felicity, his father’s fourteen-year-old lover.
Nabokov is heralded at the beginning, and his fantastic mental contortions are mirrored throughout the naughty little remembrance of an old man romancing a pretty young thing adrift, his Blackmail Girl. She is not as young as his father’s jailbait and he is older than his father but still working in film. Descriptions of what the production team does to ‘authenticate’ a film in production is impressive and maybe even wasteful and unnecessary. Extravagant, certainly. It is absorbing to hear the details interspersed with his little problem—pretending the little miss accompanying him is friend rather than prey.
"[Feelings about her] were like warm water running down my back."Comfortable, pleasurable, and maybe not so dangerous. Certainly not wrong. Well, maybe…was it wrong?…what about Felicity? Felicity, we see at the end, was clearly too young. Shepard recalls the name of one of the world’s great prose stylists, Heinrich von Kleist, who is known also for his double suicide in 1811 with a married female friend who was dying of uterine cancer, so she wouldn’t have to die alone.
This book details the metamorphosis of a man, once a boy who, like Felicity, was too young, innocent, shocked by what his body wants and what his mind does, not grousing, not explaining, just writing…describing life through language, lush, foxy, exact, observant…just look, he says, just…listen.
"Who knows what is real anyway?"We chart, as Patti Smith suggests, the “shifting core of the narrator,” from boy to man, from uncertainty to awareness, from innocence to culpability. He was always “confused and amused by women” but in senescence seeks to grasp a moment, a feeling, a memory. Literature, language, and its portrayal in film or on stage, has been his work for forty years. He may be winding down, but this he can still do: write with clarity, dreams or memories or lies or wishes or denials. This may be a memoir, but who’s to say the memories of an old man aren’t half fiction?
I loved this work. Shepard always read a lot of books but famous writers like Mailer, Capote, or Nabokov confused him. Shepard knew what was important, and stashed language like memory, in red naugahyde suitcases, ready to be pulled out in wonderment years later, and used to describe this world of his, or ours. He may be an ordinary man (who knows?), but he has extraordinary skill. This is a special, wonderful, joyful, ugly, painful look at our past century, a western landscape, and a man in it.
“Good enough for a book.”I listened to the Penguin Random House production of this memoir, read by Bill Pullman. Check out the portion excerpted below:
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