Friday, July 19, 2013

Review: The Monkey Wrench Gang, by Edward Abbey

So, I’ve mentioned the Monkey Wrench Gang  a couple times already, but now that I’m through with it I might as well put a few thoughts together by way of review. What an entertaining book! It’s its own strange mix of humor and melancholy, hope and defeat, beauty and crassness.

Dubbed by Larry McMurtry as the Thoreau of the American West, Abbey can paint effortless word pictures like this one…
“He remembered the real Colorado, before damnation, when the river flowed unchained and unchanneled in the joyous floods of May and June, swollen with snow melt. Boulders crunching and clacking and grumbling, tumbling along on the river’s bedrock bed, the noise like that of grinding molars in a giant jaw.”
… and a minute later, refer to a truck’s “seared differential scrota” without batting an eyelash. The biggest coups he manages to pull off, though, are the well-drawn, memorable characters: the loveable Jack-Mormon river guide, the crude PTSD-stricken Viet Nam vet, the refined and aging surgeon, the beautiful yet aimless female Brooklyn transplant, and of course, the stunning, forbidding, alluring canyon country of southern Utah and northern Arizona, which is perhaps the most important character of all. Even the villains jump off the page and make a deep impression.

There’s plenty of pastoral contemplation coupled with truckloads of surprise and suspense, and the whole time the reader is drawn right into the characters’ eco-activist conspiracy. There are cliffhangers (like, literally) and a surprise ending that made me want to go right out and buy the sequel. (There really is one!) Anyway, I highly recommend it.


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