cover image Cruising Paradise

Cruising Paradise

Sam Shepard. Alfred A. Knopf, $23 (239pp) ISBN 978-0-679-41564-0

Renowned playwright and actor Shepard (Buried Child, etc.) showcases his prose skills in this terse and wistful fiction debut, comprised of 40 short tales written between 1989 and 1995 and set mostly in remote reaches of the U.S. and Mexico. Stories of boyhood, lonely reminiscences, alienated accounts of showbiz absurdity and unsentimental looks at death and dying sketch a distinctive, rugged vision of manhood in America. In ""Wild to the Wild,"" boys quarrel over the care of a mail-order wolf. In the title story, a young boy's drunken father burns to death, leaving behind a charred mattress in a cheap hotel. ""More Urgent Emergencies"" sees a man lose part of one finger while embracing his lover as she slices a watermelon. ""Dust"" takes an introspective wanderer through the Badlands of South Dakota on horseback with a beguiling half-Indian woman and her father. ""The Package Man"" recounts an older man's matter-of-fact suicide in a roadhouse restroom. ""Homage to Celine,"" meanwhile, is one of several pieces following the experiences of movie actor Clayton Miles-who just wants to be left alone-as he works on a film to be shot in the Mexican jungle. As in his dramas, Shepard explores themes of solitude and loss, often tying them to the vast open spaces of America and to the siren song of its highways. And even as it plumbs shocking darkness, his writing here exhibits the gentleness and lyricism that has distinguished his acclaimed work for the stage. (May)