I’d never read Sam Shepard, and might have missed out longer if not for a random Facebook post. A friend shared “Demon in the Woods,” a ten-line passage about a looming danger: “Sometimes it hovers right above me. I don’t look up.” Fifteen sentences, and Shepard had pulled me in. Day Out of Days is filled with such riveting stories, sketches really.
Wearing an ill-fitting shirt makes Shepard inexplicably nervous, hurtling him through memories of the playground, where his handmade clothes made him the object of playground ridicule. The terror of ostracism grabs at him from years ago.
In “Thor’s Day,” a man in a diner sobs over his blueberry pancakes after a heated argument. Are we, the readers, overhearing the actual event or wallowing in the memory of it? Are we witnesses or participants? Either way, it stings.
Then there’s the gas station legend about the guy who gets stuck in the Cracker Barrel men’s room overnight. Shepard wryly describes the physical and emotional turmoil the man endures to escape not the isolation, but the piped-in Shania Twain album left on repeat. It’s positively Homeric.
Shepard explores personal yet universal fears of abandonment, regret, anxiety, and weariness, without beating himself up or giving himself accolades. By withholding judgment on himself, Shepard insinuates that he doesn’t judge the reader for having similar fears, and hints that we all deserve compassion, especially from ourselves.
I am deeply saddened we lost Mr. Shepard, but grateful to have found him. It’s fitting that coincidence led me to an writer who respected the magnitude and impermanence of human connection. He reminds us that no one is immune to uncertainty and that this commonality should bond us, even console us. We are all fishing in the dark.