Out of the chute, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and actor goes straight for the throat in his latest literary offering, The One Inside, setting the tone for a sprawling, strikingly beautiful raw-bone odyssey where the past stalks the present like a specter that can find no rest; where the living cannot break the chains of the dead ... In essence, The One Inside is pure Sam Shepard — an American master of the surreal, the gothic, and the ties that bind ... Broken into short, fractured chapters, the book deftly navigates between traditional novel narrative, lyrical prose, and straight-up dialogue. A culmination of a life’s work is at play all at once, and every inch is infused with Shepard’s muscular prose, wry humor, keen eye, and rhythmic flourish. You feel as if he’s pulled the tanned leather right from his boots and the worn indigo fabric from his favorite pair of jeans.
Memories of these women — along with memories of acting jobs, travels and childhood exploits — are woven together here, along with dreams, fantasies and Bosch-like hallucinations. The overall effect recalls Fellini’s 1963 masterpiece 8 ½, in which the real, the surreal and the imagined converge, as its film director hero thinks back upon the women in his life ... As in Shepard’s plays, time past and time present blur and overlap in this story, just as boundaries — between, say, an actor and his roles, a writer and his creations — grow fluid and porous ... This volume, too, can feel improvised and impressionistic, but it’s glued together, collage-style, by the consciousness of the hero: an archetypal Shepard male, engaged in an Oedipal struggle with his cantankerous father, and caught in a passive-aggressive dynamic with his girlfriends, whose company he both craves and disdains ... [certain] scenes will remind Shepard fans of the surreal images that bloom in his plays — at once feverish projections of his characters’ imaginations, and richly complex symbols used by the author to create a metaphorical, Bunuel-like landscape. The One Inside may be a minor Shepard work, but it provides a sharp-edged distillation of the themes that have preoccupied him throughout his career, and serves as a kind of Rosetta stone to such remarkable plays as Fool for Love, A Lie of the Mind, Buried Child and True West.”
Fans of his short stories and autobiographical writings will hear echoes of the playwright’s life all across this familiarly bleak landscape ... much of the book’s contemporary story has the substance of an extended, self-pitying sigh...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 ... insights, often evocatively phrased, are the erratic rewards of reading this fitful book. Sometimes, they come in a single phrase, such as Shepard’s appraisal of T.S. Eliot: 'essential ideas redolent of stale gin and suicide.' But 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 One Inside is less a stand-alone performance than Shepard’s short story collections, but it takes its place as a satisfying chapter in the autobiographical stream of consciousness that flows through his plays ... Not many Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrights are also heartthrobs, but one of the things that have made Shepard so attractive on the screen is our sense of his reluctance to be there. He has a natural antipathy for the movie star life. Here the narrator wrestles with phony parts, dons costumes in an agony, as if they were medieval torture instruments. He seeks authenticity, even as he creates art and artifice as a métier.
...this highly fragmented book feels less like a novel than a collection of prose poems, tied together not so much by plot as by theme and mood, a certain bleak but vital vision of the world, and by the presiding consciousness of the book's unnamed central character ... Shepard once said, with respect to his 1985 play A Lie of the Mind, 'All of the characters are in a fractured place, broken into pieces, and the pieces don't really fit together.' The same can be said of the characters in The One Inside, who can sometimes seem less like people than assemblages of people-parts, attached to dreamlike, partial, unresolved stories that have a disconcerting habit of dissolving into each other ... The ambiguities inherent in the man's recollections are magnified by Shepard's writing. The book switches between third- and first-person narration, and there are moments, even entire sections, when it is not entirely clear who is talking. Shepard refrains from naming most of the characters, and often chooses not to let readers know when he is moving from one timeframe or plotline to another ... Like its characters, The One Inside can be difficult to love: Its willful resistance toward closure or even, at times, coherence will surely put off some readers. But its dreamlike imagery, its vision of the inherent instability of human existence and its occasional flashes of humor are frequently compelling, and there is something not only admirable but magnetic about its obstinacy, a kind of integrity manifest in its refusal to give readers the easy answers we so often seek, or the sense of resolution we so often crave.