Published: February 7, 2017
ISBN: 9780451494580 - Alfred A. Knopf  (hardcover)
ISBN:  9780451494597 -  Random House (ebook)
ISBN: 97815247-57014 - Random House (audiobook)
 
Description:

This searing, extraordinarily evocative narrative opens with a man in his house at dawn, surrounded by aspens, coyotes cackling in the distance as he quietly navigates the distance between present and past. More and more, memory is overtaking him: in his mind he sees himself in a movie-set trailer, his young face staring back at him in a mirror surrounded by light bulbs. In his dreams and in visions he sees his late father—sometimes in miniature, sometimes flying planes, sometimes at war. By turns, he sees the bygone America of his childhood: the farmland and the feedlots, the railyards and the diners—and, most hauntingly, his father’s young girlfriend, with whom he also became involved, setting into motion a tragedy that has stayed with him. His complex interiority is filtered through views of mountains and deserts as he drives across the country, propelled by jazz, benzedrine, rock and roll, and a restlessness born out of exile. The rhythms of theater, the language of poetry, and a flinty humor combine in this stunning meditation on the nature of experience, at once celebratory, surreal, poignant, and unforgettable.

 
Reviews

Publishers Weekly:
In the longest work of fiction to date from the Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright, an aged actor moves through his fragmented memories of his father, the young girl who loved him, and the vast American landscape that served as a backdrop to it all. Following a poignant foreword by Patti Smith, each successive chapter of the novel flits among times and forms: there are poetic reminiscences of the actor’s ex-wife, and terse all-dialogue conversations between him and the lover intending to blackmail him.

Coloring those dynamics are flashbacks to the actor’s complicated relationship with Felicity, his father’s underage girlfriend, who also comes to take the actor’s virginity. Mixed amongst these grounding story lines are vivid scenes of his father’s death, drug fantasies, and vague meditations on sex and death. The last section of the book concerns Felicity’s disappearance and apparent suicide, an event that deepens and bonds every moment that precedes it.

Though some of the writing feels like leftovers from discarded drafts of books and plays, much of the content remains striking and memorable, illustrative of what makes Shepard’s work so arresting on the screen and the page.

Library Journal:
"The One Inside" proves to be meditative and valedictory, featuring (not surprisingly) an actor/writer recalling significant people and places in his life as the narrative careens through time from California to Santa Fe to an Oklahoma film set. Since this is Shepard, the protagonist is riding a sharp and polished knife’s edge as he muses; he’s trying to persuade a young woman not to publish some dark and damning phone conversations they’ve had together. Memories of his father, especially during wartime; of his father’s girlfriend, with whom he also became involved (with tragic consequences); and of the vibrant American landscape inform the narrative. Reflections on how acting, writing, and filmmaking really feel make this more than a novel about plot.

Kirkus Review:
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.

Booklist:
In the newest work of fiction by celebrated playwright, actor, and writer Sam Shepard, a writer and actor on in years looks back at his life, while negotiating an increasingly volatile relationship with a much younger woman.

The nameless narrator refers to his tormentor as the Blackmail Girl because she claims to have recorded and transcribed their phone conversations with the intention of publishing them. They clash in taunting and seductive encounters rife with lacerating dialogue that alternate with bruising scenes from his hardscrabble boyhood, when he became infatuated with voluptuous teen Felicity, who was having a scandalous affair with his father.

In a slowly cohering jigsaw puzzle of flashbacks and jump cuts, memories and dreams, Shepard’s piercingly observant and lonely narrator broods over the mysteries of sexual enthrallment, age’s assaults, and the abrupt demise of his 30-year marriage in finely etched vignettes capturing the poignant moods of wind, sky, the open road, birds, dogs, and coyotes; high drama in a Denny’s; absurdities on a film set; and hallucinatory visions of his dead father’s corpse shrunken to doll-size.

Washington Post:
Much of the book’s contemporary story has the substance of an extended, self-pitying sigh. In short, oblique chapters — sometimes only a small paragraph floating on a page — we divine that the narrator, an actor and writer with “a reputation for discarding women,” is still reeling from the collapse of a long relationship. (There’s no mention of Jessica Lange, but it’s hard not to think of the actress who was Shepard’s partner for almost 30 years.) There’s an awful lot of wandering around the house, looking for the dogs, feeling bereft. He thinks about suicide, mulls his dreams, considers the smell of his urine...  The best parts of “The One Inside” are those least hobbled by its fractured structure and mannered dialogue. When he stops letting vagueness masquerade as profundity, when he actually tells a story about a real man caught in the peculiar throes of a particular moment, he can still make the ordinary world feel suddenly desperate and strange.

The Culture Trip:
"The One Inside" is tryingly male in its indulgence of the macho unconscious...  ...a lesson in how our culture dresses things up as things they’re not, and while the edgy cover, the faux-poetry of Patti Smith’s foreword, and Shepard’s wannabe Beckettian prose will deem the book cool to many a brooding American bachelor, this "cool" is one that privileges self-pity and the evasion of catastrophic behavior over any attempt to do the hard work of self-reflection.

The Bowed Bookshelf:
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.