Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

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Softspoken, Lucius Shepard

Softspoken is the new novel by Lucius Shepard (lucius_t in the inferior4+1 (theinferior4) blog) and it will be released in April.

To me, there are two versions of Shepard floating around, and I define them by dates. The first Shepard is the author from the 80's and 90's and who produced Life During Wartime, Green Eyes, the Jaguar Hunter, and Barnacle Bill the Spacer (the last two are collections). My experience with the work from then is limited to the last collection, and a few other short pieces, which I thought were nicely written, but didn't say a whole lot to me. Empty, I guess would be the term. The second Shepard, however, is the author who has emerged after 2000, and has produced work such as Two Trains Running, Trujillo, Viator, A Handbook for American Prayer, and Floater. The last, especially, is a favourite of mine. It is a small, dark novel drawn from the Amadou Diallo shooting in New York in 1999. If you don't remember the story, it is where four plain clothes cops stop a young Haitian guy outside his apartment, and when he reaches for his wallet, shoot him forty one times--nineteen hit. Shepard's Floater runs the fascinating tightrope of narrating it from one of the cops point of view as he works through the conspiracy that led him to be part of the shooting (in the book Diallo is replaced by Israel Lara). It's an impressive act.

Softspoken, then, is a new novel from Shepard, and if following the steps of the other post-2000 work produced, is part of the new body of work being created. Less people think that all of Shepard's work is politically and socially motivated, it's not: Viator, which takes place on a freighter on the Alaskan coast, mixes long, twisting prose with the slow disintegration of the casts sanity, and Louisiana Breakdown, a southern gothic novel, has a decided erotic feel to the prose and events in the book. There's more, of course, but my favourite stuff has always been the work that touches the real world. Still, there is a nice breadth in the work Shepard has been producing lately, though if you read a lot of it together, you'll notice his ticks--Shepard does enjoy, for example, putting his characters through a fevered, almost hallucinatory sequence of events in the climax of his work, and a portion of his work during this time can be argued to explore the ideas of masculinity, to the point that female characters are often put in a secondary position. However, Softspoken, at least in the surface, offers to address this last tick by offering a female narrator, Sanie, and in doing so, references back to Louisiana Breakdown, where half the book was narrated from the point of view of Vida. It is interesting, perhaps, to note that both books settle into the southern gothic genre, but I rather imagine there is nothing much to be made of this.

At any rate, if you can't tell, the new work produced by Shepard, as far as I'm concerned, is fine stuff. It has the added advantage of being short and sharp and, with very few of these novels crossing the two hundred page mark, not an ounce of fat on them. Softspoken, arriving some five or six books into this output since 2000, promises much, and will, I hope, deliver.

(That is the cover up the top, by the by. The Amazon version is an advanced copy and has an ugly whiteness on half of it, so I used this. It's prettier.)

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