The Monkey Wrench Gang

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.

Desert Solitaire

Here’s a lovely thought, well-expressed.

I am twenty miles or more from the nearest fellow human, but instead of loneliness I feel loveliness. Loveliness and a quiet exultation.

It’s from (p. 16 of) Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey’s account of his time as a ranger in the Arches National Park. He was there about 50 years ago. He died in 1989, and so was spared the last two decades of the “industrial tourism” he so despised.

The book provided my bathroom reading for a while, and so helped me get away from it all (or at least from some of it). That copy was a present from my old friend Richard, who received his copy as a gift. I may in turn buy it for my father for Christmas, or I may just draw his attention to my copy during next year’s visit.

Having started with a quote from Abbey, here’s a quote about him. Only a man deeply in love with life and hopelessly soft on humanity would specify, from beyond the grave, that his mourners receive corn on the cob. Richard’s most recent visit coincided with corn season.

So, I highly recommend Desert Solitaire, and, with the holiday gift season coming up, I’m putting The Monkey Wrench Gang on my wishlist.