The fictional novel mirrors Shepard’s own final years and struggle with the paralyzing disease as the book is described as “the story of an unnamed narrator who retraces the memories of his life as he undergoes treatment for a medical condition that renders him dependent on the loved ones who are caring for him.”
Knopf will publish Spy of the First Person on December 5th. According to Knopf, Shepard began writing the story soon after his diagnosis in 2016. After completing the first drafts on a typewriter, Shepard was forced to make changes via tape recorder when the disease made typing impossible.
Shepard’s sisters helped the writer complete work on the novel, as did Shepard’s longtime friend Patti Smith, who helped edit and arrange the final manuscript. Shepard read through the book and gave his final edits on July 20th; he died a week later on July 27th.
“In searing, beautiful prose, Sam Shepard’s extraordinary last work leaps off the page with its immediacy and power,” Shepard’s longtime editor LuAnn Walther said in a statement. “Vivid, haunting, and deeply moving, it is an unflinching expression of the vulnerabilities that make us human, and an unbound celebration of family and life.”
Following Shepard’s death, Smith penned a tribute to her friend where she discussed working on the writer’s final manuscript.
“He eventually stopped picking up and leaving,” Smith wrote. “From then on, I visited him, and we read and talked, but mostly we worked. Laboring over his last manuscript, he courageously summoned a reservoir of mental stamina, facing each challenge that fate apportioned him. His hand, with a crescent moon tattooed between his thumb and forefinger, rested on the table before him. The tattoo was a souvenir from our younger days, mine a lightning bolt on the left knee.”