Susan Shepherd has seen and lived through all. Now she is dying of cancer and she is desperate to be remembered after she is gone – with her own book
All the manuscripts you receive as an editor are “sweat-and-blood testimonies about life” according to Susan Shepherd, and hers is no different. She has lived through so much, has looked death in the eye multiple times and now she feels the time is right to set down her story (or record it, as a matter of fact); her motivation is her impending death. According to Susan she “survived sexual trauma, war, alcoholism, giving birth once and getting shot twice.” However, one encounter turned her world upside down and changed her life completely: when Susan met the Professor – a man she calls Daniel.
The first time Susan meets Daniel, she kicks his arse. The same night their love affair starts and ends abruptly with Susan being pregnant and an Eastern beauty whisking Daniel away. Susan is not the type to acquiesce quietly – she smashes his belongings, cuts his clothes and damages whatever she can. An explosive love affair ending in pretty much the same way it started! Susan has lived all her life in Charters (do not attempt to call it ‘Chartres’ like the French town because she hates that!) and the people living there are divided between Townies (those living in the town) and Furbies (the students from the Charters’ University). After having served in the Army during the first Iraq War, thanks to the GI Bill, Susan was able to study Criminal Science and successfully finish it with an Associate’s Degree. Now Susan is a Police Officer who has no problem using violence, like when Jesus (the drug dealer, dating Susan’s daughter Emma) abuses Emma in Susan’s eyes. No wonder the mother-daughter relationship is stressful, to say the least.
Who else is there in this strange tale with all sorts of storylines and seemingly unconnected characters, who, upon a closer look, somehow are all part of Susan’s extraordinary story? There is Judy, applying for the job of President of Charters’ University with her unconventional approach and her hidden past. There is a radio broadcaster and journalist, Guy, with his breakfast program in which he interviews anyone in the news in Charters. Guy is a recovering alcoholic and hates the way the radio station is now operating – he is friends with Susan but also has a line into the top of the University, convenient as we will find out because something weird is going on there. Does it have anything to do with the political games, involving Walter Washington, Chief of the Campus Police who would have loved to become the University’s new president, if only to claim the huge expenses for his Las Vegas dinner party? Somehow, in between, Professor Daniel or Akram Khan as he calls himself now has complicated altercations with his student Chris Leifheit …
What is this? A novel, a plea to validate and give value to a life, about to end? A fast-paced biography with intermittent other people’s views or stories? To be read or rather visualised? Is Guy the radio journalist somehow connected to or loosely based on the author Dan Klefstad? Why is it sometimes so difficult to relate to what Susan and Judy are going through? They are both fascinating characters, strong and (slightly) crazy women fixed on their respective goal and determined to get from life what they feel entitled to regardless of the law or society’s rules. I am in doubt what to think of the somewhat bizarre context and would love hearing more about their story without being interrupted by the ‘address the editor’ and the ‘Susan asked me to fill in’ parts. Susan Shepherd, with the life she led surely deserves it! It is disturbing and sometimes incomprehensible but at the same time enjoyable and entertaining.
About the Author
Since 1997 Dan Klefstad has been waking NPR station WNIJ listeners with the latest news and other information. Throughout the year, the author immerses himself in works written by Illinois and Wisconsin authors after which he interviews these writers for Morning Edition and records them reading excerpts. If you are interested in these interviews and excerpts, check out WNIJ’s “Read With Me” book series archive. ‘Shepherd & the Professor is Dan Klefstad’s first novel – he also has published a short story ‘ The Caretaker’ in the journal Crack the Spine (issue 209). He lives and writes in DeKalb, Illinois, and Williams Bay, Wisconsin.
|Publisher||Black Rose Writing (31 March. 2016)|