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.
Finally, a few words about pictures. First, credit and thanks to Kris for the photo. Second, it seems as though the Monkey Wrench movie will be made soon. I wish I could have higher hopes for it.
2 thoughts on “The Monkey Wrench Gang”
The Monkey Wrench Gang is more comic book than novel. It’s a fun, and compelling read, but I think people have attributed more meaning into MWG than Abbey intended. The book itself served as a proto-bible for Earth First! in the late-1970s and early-1980s, but Abbey himself never joined the group. (Although he did write on their behalf on occasion). At various points in his life Abbey attempted to separate himself, and his book, from people that took the book too seriously. Even going so far as to proclaim that the novel was written merely to “entertain and amuse”.
If you’re interested in reading some of Abbey’s other works I would suggest “The Brave Cowboy”, “Black Sun” and “The Fools Progress”. Also, if you haven’t already read Aldo Leopold’s “A Sand County Almanac” I would highly recommend it.
Look to your health; and if you have it, praise God, and value it next to a good conscience; for health is the second blessing that we mortals are capable of; a blessing that money cannot buy.