(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Late Henry Moss is, as are numerous other Shepard works, ripe for Freudian brain-picking: The deistic father has spun his dysfunctional American family web and then disappeared, leaving the fractured unit members to replay the past with longing, with resentment, and with climactic and uncontrollable violent episodes. The post-traumatic stress is as acute for the offspring as it is for the survivors of battle. As Earl Moss tells the audience, he remembers the past and family life “like a war.”

The brothers Moss relive the battle, however, in more than panoramic flashbacks: Where in True West the sibling rivalry and ultimate role reversal are depicted with an overkill of toast and beer contrasted against the homey desert dwelling and the vociferous crickets and wolves, The Late Henry Moss is represented by the warm and musty womb of the Mexican hovel as it is intruded upon by the living specters of their father’s past few hours (the taxi driver who drove him to the piers, the father’s Indian prostitute/girlfriend, the menudo-wielding friend), by the ever-constant flow of bourbon, and by foreshadowing and flashback-instigating family photographs.

While the character motivation shares a subliminal aim—brothers playing out parts as badly imprinted by a father who has abandoned them and who is dead (and whose death has brought the two disparate siblings back together after seven years)—that...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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