The pace of Sam Shepard’s duet with mortality was quickening as he worked on Spy of the First Person, his final collection of writings. Began about a year before his death in 2017, by the time he completed the book, Shepard, afflicted with complications from ALS, couldn’t write by hand or type, so his final edits were dictated. Spy of the First Person may be a short, slender collection, but it’s still unmistakably the work of Sam Shepard, one of the most influential figures in American letters.
Music underlies Shepard’s prose, a particular rhythm, sharp but embracing, colored by melancholy. In some of the pieces, the fading Shepard is observing himself from a distance, from the vantage point of the self he was before his illness took hold. Or vice versa, as in this passage: “I have binoculars now so I can just make out through the screen porch that he is sitting and it’s not a rocker like I originally thought but it’s more of a sliding office chair affair.”
Observations of birds and sunlight, ruminations, memories of what was and is no longer, and questions fill Spy of the First Person. As a writer and man, Shepard was ever seeking. “What exactly is the experience of the present?” he wonders, and goes on to answer, “The experience of the present is one of anonymity. Complete anonymity.” Perhaps that is what Shepard felt as the end drew near. Fortunately, the plays and stories he left behind will live on into the future.