My introduction to Edward Abbey was Desert Solitaire, his memoir of the American Southwest – although memoir is far too genteel a word for that book. I asked for, received, and have just finished his novel The Monkey Wrench Gang.
Uniting the novel, the memoir, and the life of the author, is the theme of resistance to intrusion on the southwestern landscape by highways, reservoirs, dams, and the like. Here are the thoughts of “Seldom Seen” Smith, one of four members of the monkey wrench gang.
Like Hayduke [another of the four] his heart was full of a healthy hatred… He remembered the strange great amphitheaters called Music Temple and Cathedral in the Desert. All these things now lay beneath the dead water of the reservoir, slowly disappearing under layers of descending silt.
The quote illustrates a couple of things about Abbey and the novel. First, he really could write. Second, he, Abbey, is the main character. If he really wanted Seldom or Hayduke, or Doc or Bonnie, to be the main characters, he wouldn’t have qualified hatred with healthy. There are many other quotes I could have used to illustrate these points. I chose the above quote because it is the first I found that illustrated both well.
So, if you want to read an Abbey book, I recommend Desert Solitaire. If you want to read a sprawling novel about eco-sabotage, I recommend Monkey Wrench Gang. I should admit now that I have yet to read any of his other books.