>The New Yorker: "Land of the Living" by Sam Shepard

>I didn’t hate this story, and it isn’t a novel excerpt, so that makes it one of the best stories of the year so far. A couple from Minnesota is vacationing in Cancun with their kids. There are other snowbirds on the same flight and at the same hotel. There’s a delay at customs, the only point of which that I can determine is to allow husband and wife to discuss his personality change now that he’s on Xanax. And to make them late getting into the hotel, the point of which isn’t clear. The wife, on the drive from the airport to the hotel accuses the husband of having a girlfriend, which he denies. The reason the wife suspects him is that she answered his cell phone and it was a woman on the line. Still, he denies it. On the flight home, an older man, whom the husband has seen several times on the trip, dies. When they get back to the house, the cell phone is ringing.

Huh? The important elements seem to be the husband’s personality change (attributed to Xanax, but possibly owing to the girlfriend, if she exists), the death of the old man, and the ringing cell phone. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this marriage is over, and the death of the old man—who had been in a wheelchair—is a sign to the husband. I bet he’s going to answer the phone and go to the girlfriend, even though it appears that he had been prepared to leave her behind.

Or not. I don’t think the story’s really good enough to worry about what it really means.

September 21, 2009: “Land of the Living” by Sam Shepard

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  1. >They are delayed by the hijacking (a few weeks ago) in mexico city aren't they?

    I thought it was crazy that the fighting and suspicion was allowed to go on while death lingered in such close proximity.

    The Xanax thing seemed to dull the ability to sense those things…

    I liked it. It was better than "Temporary" anyway.

  2. >I had the same reaction….I liked the writing, but as a whole, I just shrugged. I suppose we're meant to wonder whether or not the husband was telling the truth, but that just isn't enough, imo.

  3. >I don't think it's about the death of a marriage as it is about death within marriage — as the final betrayal.

  4. >To add to the above — look at the soldiers described as Mayan hawklike figures, the trip to the underworld (Mexico), the creepy way the fam is 'late' everywhere as they arrive… it's about death, prosaically. The old woman keeps having the dead body of her 'mate' shocked again and again but he won't come back… Death betrays couples, and being unfaithful can't save you, it's the ultimate betrayal. The weary, unexciting quality, maybe, is both how it's universal and how it applies even to Sam and Jessica

  5. >Oh, and the cell phone?… Cliff, that's Sam's sly joke.. Ask not for whom the cell phone rings, it rings for thee…

  6. >Couldn't have been more hackneyed if it tried. I can't think of any other reason to publish this story than because the dude is an actor.

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