Cover Image: True West

True West

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Member Reviews

Delighted to highlight this new release in “The Lives of Others,” a round-up of new and notable biography and cultural history titles in the Books section of Zoomer magazine for April. (see column and mini-review at link)

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Sam Shepard wrote several of my all-time favorite plays (including "Buried Child" and "Curse of the Starving Class," so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read the biography TRUE WEST. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for early access!

It was fascinating to read about Sam Shepard's family and his upbringing. It truly showed how the "Sam Shepard" I studied in college was a myth of his own making. He created quite the character. I had not known this until reading TRUE WEST.

Although I appreciate Robert Greenfield's attention to detail and deep research, I found the actual line-by-line writing in this book a difficult read. The prose came across as very macho and in-your-face, especially when it came to the use of the N-word and homophobic language. These words didn't have to be spelled out, even when quoting someone. There's no way I would bring this use of language--historically accurate or not--into my creative writing classroom.

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My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Crown Publishing for an advanced copy of this biography on a man who was not only a great playwright, but a musician, an actor, a horsemen, a father, a son, and maybe not the nicest of men.

Sam Shepard was not only a playwright that wrote about families with a strength and a truth about what love and hate and other emotions lay under the surface, he was an actor with a man's man look that made both sexes swoon a little. Shepard was also a musician, playing with experimental bands, and teaching Patti Smith about guitar, and even buying Smith her first guitar. Shepard knew horses, and he knew how to sell himself, even though Shepard treated his privacy like a currency, one he hoarded most of his life. In many ways Shepard was a bit of fiction, a character no different than one written in his plays. His name was an alias, adding fiction or better stories to his biography was no different than rewriting a scene in a play. Truth seemed to only be for his plays, everything else, be it friends, wives, lovers, family, even judges, well so be it. In True West: Sam Shepard's Life, Work, and Times Robert Greenfield has written a biography that is as true and honest as one can be, when writing about the life of an almost Renaissance and difficult man.

Readers first meet our hero as he has arrived in New York, broke and admiring the way a hamburger is prepared in White Castle. Samuel Shepard Rogers III was born in 1943 to a United States Army Air Forces bomber pilot, who later became a teacher, also named Samuel, and his mother Jane also a school teacher. Samuel, called Steve Rogers, the same name as the character in the Captain America comics, grew up in California, and spent summers working on a ranch, where he became interested in animals, and thought of becoming a veterinarian. Sam went to college for a short time, becoming interested in acting and joing a acting troupe that put on plays across the country, till he found himself in New York, where we first met him. Sam found a job as a busboy in the Village Gate, making decent money for the time, and soon was working with another theatre group, that he began writing one-act plays for, which slowly garnered respect. Soon he was married, working with a band, writing, more plays, than dating Patti Smith writing a play with her, as his reputation began to grow. And what follows is a life of prizes, acting roles, romances, children, sadness, but a life proudly lived to his standards.

This is not only an well-written and well-researched biography, but a wonderfully written book. Right from the opening the book pulls the reader into the story, and does not let go, even when Sam Shepard is kind of a jerk, which happens a lot. Greenfield has a very nice style, able to talk about not just the plays, but the writing, the thoughts and the work that went into there creation. Considering how much Shepard created his own mythology, I can't imagine it was easy putting this together, and I really marvel at the skill, and the portrait that Greenfield has created about this man. I knew the actor, but now need to know more about his writings, and look forward to exploring Shepard's works. A beautiful book about a very complicated artist, who must have really been a pain to know, or even worse to be ignored by as Shepard did to so many people.

A biography for people who enjoy the lives of complicated people, or who enjoy really well told stories about famous characters. This also would of course be of interest to those who enjoy books about the theater. And for those interested in books on creating, and working on art. To read how Shepard struggled, rewriting plays and trying to get the truth, and the feeling down is quite inspirational. A really very good book, and I can't wait to see who Robert Greenfield picks as his next subject.

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True West by Robert Greenfield artfully and comprehensively describes Sam Shepard's prolific career of writing, directing, acting, teaching, and even musician as he influenced, affected and collaborated with icons of the 60s through the early 2000s. It seems he knew them all. It is impossible to find a person more creative and successful than Shepard who examined realism, absurdism, and psychological, and experimental art of every kind. Shepard's genius and his sometimes brutal look at life earned him a Pulitzer Prize and 10 Obie Awards. He was also nominated for five Tony awards, an academy award for best supporting actor, and he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Shepard's honesty and ego are superseded only by his drive and unbounded creativity. His plays, in particular, are complex and rich and were sought out throughout America and the UK because of their unusual point of view and abundant possibilities for actors and directors. Most people who spent time with Shepard were amazed at his boundless creativity and lack of repetition.

Greenfield's careful analysis, highly skilled and effective writing, and resourceful connections with those who played important roles in Shepard's life enrich this biography and our clarity as readers. The personal side of Shepard, seeing him as a cowboy, lover, son, brother, and father also enhances the book and complete the picture of this astonishing and influential man. Greenfield has incorporated every aspect of Shepard into the biography, and there is not one false note in the book.

Thanks to Crown Publishing and Net Gallery for the opportunity to read and review this book.

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