Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Better to be smart, or lucky?

    The answer of course, is both. But most people aren't. They aren't even one or the other. But given a choice, luck is best. How many smart, talented people end up living utterly miserable lives?

     What a dour prelude to this blog. I read three books in a row by the same author, Sam Shepard. All three were his collections of short stories Day out of Days: Stories, this book being the most recent. I know he's also a noted playwright whose early work Buried Child won him a Pulitzer Prize in 1969.

    I confess I don't read plays. The stage directions get annoying. They clutter the story. So, I haven't had had a full view of  his work. Though the short stories I read seem to get repetitive. Collections of this or that, all the same just different packages covers.
   Love books? Almost as much as I love movies and I  got the jammed bookshelves to prove it. Read 'em all. I am partial to mysteries (love Sue Grafton starting with  A Is for Alibi and that wonderful novelist noir James Elroy) and read so many true crime stories for example, Truman Capote's In cold blood (I have stacks by the best) and then there are just plain good books like Anna Quindlin's Black and Blue: A Novel

      So I read in order of publication Shepard's three collections of short stories starting with Great Dream of Heaven: Stories published, if I recall, in 1986, then his Cruising Paradise: Tales in 1997 and his most recent Day out of Days: Stories published this year. 

    The books aren't just short stories as much as a few good tales with a bunch of essays, remembrances of personal events, poems, and a few chapters that are no more than a paragraph. You can say some pretty powerful stuff in a paragraph. But each book seems weaker than the next. Each had fewer stories and more essays, on, for example, Shepard's escapades during this latest acting job. Or his childhood. I saw a number of those movies and I recognized a lot of those locations and situations. If he disliked it that much why do it? He didn't need the money.

     Shepard made well as an actor. He was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff. That was more because Yeager was an amazing man than Shepard an amazing actor.  Shepard's best roles were in 1977 Days of Heaven  by Terrence Malick, co-starring Richard Gere and Brook Adams. The other was a part as Ethan Hawk's courageous publisher dad in Snow Falling on Cedars.. (The book and film  were marvelous).

    I read autobiographical material in which I shared with Shepard a  childhood with an abusive, alcoholic parent. So I checked his books out of my local library. I know what he means when, in one of his essays he talks about intrusions of prickly thoughts. Maybe that's the genesis of the series on the severed head. A treacherous childhood can leave its tattoos. I don't read or watch much on westerns. Cowboys themselves are more interesting but so much information is available on the internet. Like everything you want to know about Hank Williams Sr. Beats me why the New York Times went ga ga over Shepard's last book. Genius? I guess it is a matter of taste. Still, it's better to be lucky. Shepard sure was in his adult life.


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