An elegiac amble through blowing dust and greasy spoons, the soundtrack the whine of truck engines and the howl of coyotes.
If one word were to define Shepard, the chisel-faced actor and playwright of few words, since his more madcap days of the 1960s, it might be “laconic.” So it is with this vignetted story, with its terse, portentous opening: “They’ve murdered something far off.” “They” are the ever-present coyotes, who, of course, kill but do not murder, strictly speaking—but Shepard’s choice of words is deliberate and telling. In this Southwestern landscape, where the sand cuts deep, driven by the scouring winds along with the “Styrofoam cups, dust, and jagged pieces of metal flying across the highway,” Shepard’s actor narrator, wandering from coast to interior and back again, remembers things and moments: the '49 Mercury coupe that delivers his father’s mysteriously mummified corpse home, the latter-day bicycle cowboys of Santa Fe, “guzzling vitamin water from chartreuse plastic bottles.” Like a cordonazo storm about to break, the atmosphere is ominous, but only just: in Shepard’s prose there is always the threat of violence and all manner of mayhem, but then things quiet down, the hangover fades and the talk of suicide dwindles and the stoic protagonist returns to reading his Bruno Schulz at the diner counter. At turns, Shepard’s story morphs from novel, with recurring characters and structured narrative, into prose poem, with lysergic flashes of brilliance and amphetamine stutters: “Mescal in silver bottles. Tacos. Parking lots. Radios. Benzedrine. Cherry Coke. Brigitte Bardot.” It’s a story to read not for the inventiveness of its plot but for its just-right language and images: “Nothing but the constant sound of cattle bawling as though their mothers were eternally lost.”
Cheerless but atmospheric and precisely observed, very much of a piece with Shepard’s other work.