Ed Abbey called The Monkey Wrench Gang, his 1975 novel, a "comic extravaganza." Some readers have remarked that the book is more a comic book than a real novel, and it's true that reading this incendiary call to protect the American wilderness requires more than a little of the old willing suspension of disbelief.
The story centers on Vietnam veteran George Washington Hayduke III, who returns to the desert to find his beloved canyons and rivers threatened by industrial development. On a rafting trip down the Colorado River, Hayduke joins forces with feminist saboteur Bonnie Abbzug, wilderness guide Seldom Seen Smith, and billboard torcher Doc Sarvis, M.D., and together they wander off to wage war on the big yellow machines, on dam builders and road builders and strip miners. As they do, his characters voice Abbey's concerns about wilderness preservation ("Hell of a place to lose a cow," Smith thinks to himself while roaming through the canyonlands of southern Utah. "Hell of a place to lose your heart. Hell of a place... to lose. Period").
Moving from one improbable situation to the next, packing more adventure into the space of a few weeks than most real people do in a lifetime, the motley gang puts fear into the hearts of their enemies, laughing all the while. It's comic, yes, and required reading for anyone who has come to love the desert.
Edward Paul Abbey (1927–1989) was an American author and essayist noted for his advocacy of environmental issues, criticism of public land policies, and anarchist political views.
Abbey attended college in New Mexico and then worked as a park ranger and fire lookout for the National Park Service in the Southwest. It was during this time that he developed the relationship with the area’s environment that influenced his writing. During his service, he was in close proximity to the ruins of ancient Native American cultures and saw the expansion and destruction of modern civilization.
His love for nature and extreme distrust of the industrial world influenced much of his work and helped garner a cult following.
Abbey died on March 14, 1989, due to complications from surgery. He was buried as he had requested: in a sleeping bag—no embalming fluid, no casket. His body was secretly interred in an unmarked grave in southern Arizona.
Una volta abituatomi alla piacevole (!?) novità editoriale delle note fuori sync, nel senso che compaiono in basso mediamente un paio di pagine prima di essere indicate nel testo - quando sono indicate - ho avuto l’impressione di essere piombato dentro un romanzo di James Crumley: umori, personaggi, tono lo ricordano molto. Solo che Edward Abbey si tiene lontano dal genere, noir o crime, dissemina meno armi spari sangue e violenza. E quando lo fa, usa meno cattiveria, attenua la violenza, e non ci sottrae un finale che solleva il cuore.
The Monkey Wrench Gang (il titolo originale del libro), la Banda della Chiave Inglese, questi quattro folli allucinati guastatori, è a tutti gli effetti un manuale per moderni sabotatori che insegna a confezionare bombe, maneggiare esplosivi, selezionarli, guastare, demolire, danneggiare, incendiare. Due dei quattro: George Hayduke, l’ex marine, l’autentico allucinato artefice di un percorso esistenziale che è difficile mettere da parte, e Seldom Seen Smith, alias il Fabbro Visto Raramente, anche se più che il fabbro, è proprio lui che viene visto di rado in quanto da mormone ha tre mogli con relativa prole, in tre città diverse, e tra il mestiere di guida per canyon e mesa e rafting, i lavori da contadino insieme a Susan, la moglie prediletta, le altre due e la relativa prole lo vedono effettivamente assai di rado. Questi due sono gli autentici sabotatori. Gli altri due, il dottor Sarvis, medico chirurgo, è soprattutto l’ispiratore, il teorico, e il finanziatore. La sua giovane assistente, Bonnie Abbzug, ebrea del Bronx, spesso paragonata per bellezza a una giovane Liz Taylor, è la piccola vedetta bianca, assistente e collaboratrice, palo e autista.
L’edizione riporta sapientemente all’inizio una mappa della zona dove si svolge l’azione: lo Utah meridionale, l’Arizona e il New Mexico settentrionali. Terra di una bellezza devastante, che uomini avidi e ingordi, affamati di potere e progresso, stavano letteralmente devastando già nella prima metà degli anni Settanta durante i quali è ambientato il romanzo (pubblicato nel 1975). È la Navajo Land, la terra del Grand Canyon, attraversata dal fiume Colorado, di cui la madre di tutte le dighe che meritano essere distrutte, la Glen Canyon Dam, ha interrotto il corso.
Corso, quello del fiume Colorado, lungo 2300 chilometri, cioè in pratica il doppio della lunghezza della nostra bella penisola italica, attraversa un territorio di rara selvaggia unica bellezza, e procede a tratti pacifico, poi con brusche accelerate, improvvisi salti, tumultuose rapide – ritmo di scorrimento che echeggia quello della scrittura di Edward Abbey, del tono generale della storia, della personalità dei suoi quattro protagonisti – corso che ormai non porta più acqua al mare, nel Golfo della California, come avveniva prima della costruzione di quella e delle altre dighe.
La prima cosa sulla quale mi sono trovato a riflettere è come questi terroristi ecologici, individualisti e anarchici secondo la quintessenza del più puro spirito stelle-e-strisce, vadano in giro su automobili che mettono insieme un’impressionante quantità di metallo, liberino nell’aria un’ancor più impressionante quantità di scarichi combusti, brucino combustibile per procurarsi il quale stiamo distruggendo il pianeta, amino il deserto nel quale sentono il loro spirito libero e selvaggio mettere le ali, deserto che però disseminano di rifiuti, dalle cicche alle lattine di birra alle bottiglie di bourbon mandate in frantumi, non rifiutino la modernità sotto forma di armi sofisticate, inclusi mitra e fucili con mirino telescopico e proiettili speciali, sotto forma di sacchi a pelo tecnologici e ricetrasmittenti e gadget vari a cominciare da tutti quelli necessari per fare rafting su imbarcazioni ultimo grido non certo su piroghe intagliate nei tronchi...
Abbey mette in scena un’improvvisata sparuta banda di anarco-ambientalisti (che ha ispirato la nascita del movimento “Earth First!”) fedele alla disobbedienza civile di Thoreau, di fronte al disastro ambientale, sociale e culturale del cosiddetto progresso tecno-industriale capitalista. E così, a ovest del centesimo meridiano a tagliare le recinzioni non si sbaglia mai. Tagliare sempre le recinzioni. Questa è la legge a ovest del centesimo meridiano. Perché nel 1874 un tizio che si chiamava J.F. Gilden brevettò il filo spinato: Un successo immediato, quel filo spinato. Adesso le antilopi morivano a migliaia, le pecore delle montagne perivano a centinaia ogni inverno dall’Alberta giù fino all’Arizona, perché le recinzioni tagliavano ogni via di fuga dalle tempeste di neve e dalla scarsità di cibo. E anche i coyote, le aquile reali, e i soldati contadini sui rotoli di filo spinato, vittime della stessa gratuita malvagità che prospera.
Abbey s’immerge in meravigliose descrizioni del paesaggio: descrizioni vividissime, ricchissime di dettagli e di suggestioni particolareggiate d’ogni cosa – le rocce e i sassi e la sabbia, la vegetazione, le foreste e i loro alberi, gli animali, il cielo, l’aria, i rumori e i profumi… – che mi hanno immerso nel paesaggio stesso al punto da spingermi a schierarmi inevitabilmente dalla parte di chiunque voglia difenderne la sublime bellezza, in qualsiasi modo lo faccia. La bellezza del paesaggio che Abbey descrive è tale che adesso voglio leggere anche il suo libro sui deserti.
Un buon giorno per morire è il titolo di un romanzo non eccezionale di Jim Harrison nel quale i tre protagonisti, uno dei quali reduce del Vietnam proprio come qui George Hayduke, progettano di far saltare la stessa diga per gli stessi principi. Il romanzo di Harrison è apparso due anni prima di questo. Ma questo è molto più bello.
This tale of four "goldamn envirn-meddlers" is one of the least compelling stories I've ever read. I put off picking up the book until just before bedtime, and that one or two paragraphs I managed to read sure did wonders for lulling me into unconsciousness. The parts I did stay awake for only served to piss me off. The hypocrisy of these eco-terrorists is laughable. They motor up and down the very highways they rage against, burning massive amounts of fossil fuels in the commission of their protests, all the while, blithely tossing trash out the windows. Then there's the fact that the men are allowed to be old, fat, and hirsute. The one woman is, of course, young and attractive, with "shaven calves." (Interesting that she packs a razor for all their wilderness exploits. Probably a disposable which is then tossed from a car window.)
I don't know . . . maybe this was a case of "wrong book, wrong time." This is one of those books I kept saving to savor at a later date, and perhaps, I held out too long, until the "best buy read" date expired. The reason this gets three, rather than two stars, is that I have a feeling I might have liked it had I read it in high school or college.
Nowadays, I root for Billy Mack instead of Billy Joe and Bobbie Sue. (After all, Billy Joe did shoot a man while robbing his castle.) I probably should have read this one when I was reading Another Roadside Attraction. Abbey's book reminds me of Tom Robbins, only not funny.
Yes, it's an iconic work of anarchy and environmentalism, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth the read. This book is hilarious. Like most other American nature writers, Abbey was a bit of a self-important pig (I can't stand Farley Mowat, though maybe he's Canadian); unlike most other American nature writers, he has a sense of humor about it.
The characters are grizzled and absurd, their actions are grandiose and delusional, and I felt a strong sense of solidarity and sympathy the whole way that I probably shouldn't reveal in a public forum. Their last desperate measures to halt uncontrolled development and destruction of the West resonate in a way that a factual description of the follies of massive energy projects would not.
There is a wider array of characters than normally stereotyped as environmentalists -- in fact, there are no tree-hugging hippies in this book -- and that's what makes it so rich. There's a polygamous Mormon tour-guide whose home lies under a dam-made reservoir, a manic inarticulate and a-social young veteran, and a rich suburban doctor who's banging a younger, depressed transplanted New Yorker. A common critique of Abbey is that he's sexist, and this may be, but I actually like Bonnie's character, objectified though she was as the sole female character and self-aware slut.
No, I am not going to go drive a Caterpillar off a cliff now, but this book does make you wonder . . .
I had a tough time getting through this book. Every character had basically the same personality and the story just rambles and rambles. People seem to love Edward Abbey for his out-there ideas, but they don’t do much for me at this time.
pretty disappointed by this actually. like, the writing was good and I liked the style a lot, and I feel like I should have liked this (environmental vigilantes! exciting chase scenes!) but honestly I couldn't get past the racism and sexism. edward abbey is like the kind of anarchist white dudebro who would unironically say that fight club is their favorite movie.
I think I would have liked this a lot more too if the characters weren't all terrible (and racist). the only girl character was shitty and boring and the summary on the back led me to believe that she's a feminist but the way he wrote her was more patronizing and as if she were just a big child with no drive beyond what's "interesting". plus, the main hero (I guess?) is awful and claims to love "his" wilderness while a) treating native people like shit and b) literally throwing his trash (beer cans) all over the desert?? and even admitting that he doesn't think other people should drive their cars through "his" wilderness but thinks he's the only one who should?? so like, yeah, huge disappointment.
Is this book problematic? Yes. Are there politically incorrect, racist, and sexist comments? Yes. Did I love every minute of it? Yes!
I sit here simultaneously smiling and shaking my head as I write this review. It all began after a decision was made to spend some time in the deserts of the Southwest, USA. What might be a good book for the trip? Edward Abbey's name kept popping up, and this book was also a seminal one for my partner, so up my TBR pile it migrated.
It's the story of four people, three men and one women, who are not entirely pleased with changes made in the name of "progress" in particular, and have total disgust for bureaucracies in general. George Washington Hayduke III is a Vietnam Vet who returns to his beloved desert to find it threatened by development. Other members of this band of ecoterrorists (in the eyes of some beholders) are feminist saboteur Bonnie Abbzug, wilderness guide Seldom Seen Smith, and billboard destroyer Doc Sarvis, M.D. Instead of sitting around and moaning about things, or changing their Facebook Status (though that was way after their time), the quartet decide to wage war on the purveyors of all that progress.
There is so much here. The characters are well fleshed out, the writing is wonderful, the musings and philosophical meanderings as pertinent today as when this was originally published in 1975. There is lots of humor amidst all the anarchy and destruction, and much of what was feared has come to pass. This book is really a call to action to protect the environment in general, and deserts in particular. There is irony in how these four in many ways are not environmentally politically correct themselves, but you have to pick your battles.
That Abbey loved and cared about the deserts, and tried to get others to do the same is of little doubt. That he does so with a yarn full of shenanigans and hi-jinks is fantastic. While I might not go out and destroy heavy machinery or drive a Caterpillar off a cliff, I do now know exactly how to do so.
I listened to the audiobook, which was wonderfully narrated by Michael Kramer, and would highly recommend this on audio. You will find no tree huggers here, but people passionate about a cause that should concern us all. I've just discovered a new fave author and will be reading all his work.
In recent times, Al Gore has credited Rachel Carson (The Silent Spring) for introducing environmental concerns into his nascent consciousness, but it is a work of fiction not fact, Edward Abbey's "Monkey Wrench Gang", published first in 1975, which is regarded as having inspired a new generation of angry young environmental activists to the practice of extreme sabotage, sometimes called terrorism, for the sake of protecting the earth. For this reason, I recently reread this novel. I was interested to see if it had dated or whether if it still held relevance in these modern times, on this continent.
In the author's own words, "Monkey Wrench Gang" is a "comic extravanganza", a wild improbable story of symbolic aggression and constructive vandalism. A group of 4 passionate environmental warriors comprising a Vietnam vet, an eco-feminist, a wealthy medical doctor and a wilderness guide join forces to commit mayhem and liberate parts of Utah and Arizona from evil developers. They do this by waging war on billboards, construction machinery, roads and dams. While there is plenty of rollicking outrageous fun, nailbiting chase after chase and drama enough, the characters provide a vehicle for Abbey to voice his concerns and express philosophical observations on the subject of environmental preservation and the essential relationship between a healthy planet and healthy human beings. "The wilderness once offered men a plausible way of life, " the doctor said. "Now it functions as a psychiatric refuge. Soon there will be no wilderness......then the madness becomes universal...And the universe goes mad". Is it just a ringing in my ears, or do I hear echoes of Thoreau's "In wilderness is the preservation of man" here.
Having been thoroughly entertained by this page turner's quirky characters and hilarious, daring escapades - the reader is left with heightened awareness of the serious moral questions concerning the nature of our relationship with wilderness and our personal responsibility and culpability. These moral and ethical questions are as contemporary today as they were in the seventies. This book is funny, wise and as dangerously disquieting as the day it was first published.
Giving this book 5 stars would probably put me on some sort of a list, but let's be honest: I'm already on that list. If you're at all concerned about the environment, this is a pretty good book to read. It was the inspiration for Earth First! (The exclamation point is part of the name of the organization, the real end of the sentence follows this parenthetical). But the great part about this book is that it isn't a boring didactic screed. Instead, it's a hilarious comedy/adventure novel. To give my favorite example: One character starts using the alias Rudolph the Red during what would now probably be called a "direct action" campaign against various mining and logging interests. The only reason for that name is so that, in a conversation about the weather, he can say to a girl "Rudolph the Red knows rain, dear." Brilliant.
I blame reading this book at an inappropriately young age (9 or 10?) for the violent gag reflex that occurs whenever I smell patchouli, as well as the involuntary "NOOOOOOO" that I surprise myself with every time a ratty college do-gooder accosts me with a clipboard and a jaunty, "do you have a minute for the environment?"
Also, the surfeit of clunky, unshaven, back-of-the-VW-with-a-dog-looking-on-from-the-front-seat sex that occurs every second or third chapter couldn't have been good for my overall development. (That, however, is between me and my therapist.)
This novel has all the same elements that make Edward Abbey's non-fiction so compelling: the depth of his knowledge and emotions about the desert landscapes of Utah and Colorado, his poetic descriptions of same, and his eloquent condemnation of the loss of this wilderness for the sake of city-dwelling, industrial man.
This book has all of that on display in droves, but also it highlights some of his weaknesses: smart-assey movie dialogue, rampant sexism and a love of bad puns. His four protagonists all start out resembling Edward Abbey a bit too directly, although by the end of the book, when they start running out of Abbeyesque witty bravado and face real problems, they become a bit more three-dimensional.
But the characters are really just there for Abbey to indulge in the extended revenge fantasy for which this book is a blueprint. Abbey's descriptions of industrial sabotage are so lovingly detailed, he's practically begging you to try them. Some consider this the book that launched Earth First! It definitely gave me a hankering to blow things up. (And it made me nostalgic for an era when you could purchase cordite at the farm store without an ID.)
When I was about 12 years old, my dad took my sister and me camping in Southeast Utah. We took my dad's Ford truck with four wheel drive to Canyonlands National Park and went on various roads, back roads, dirt roads, and roads that were barely roads at all. We bumped around the slick rock of Ernies Country, and went up a narrow and twisty dirt road with a sheer cliff on one side. It terrified my sister and I so that we buckled into the middle seat together and sang hymns the whole way down. We camped underneath one of the needles, and slept in sleeping bags under the stars. Before night fell, my dad took us to the edge of the canyon and peered over the edge into The Maze. As we looked at it, he told me the story of the climax in The Monkey Wrench Gang. I knew I would have to read this book. Standing there on the light side of dusk, and in fact that whole trip, hymns and all, is one of my favorite childhood memories.
And so it was with a fond recollection of my times in Northern Arizona Southeast Utah I read The Monkey Wrench Gang, a book about the beauty of this unforgiving dessert and the environmental anarchists that love it.
The plot is simple - in the mid 70s, 4 characters unlikely to hang out together under normal circumstances - a young new age hippy woman, a liberal doctor/processor, a Vietnam vet turned wildman, and a Mormon polygamous white water river tour operator - have a chance meeting and hatch a plot to disrupt the building of dams and bridges, logging, and other industrial pursuits. Along the way they have various adventures while trying to evade the authorities.
The book is very comedic, and I found myself chuckling at various points throughout. At first I thought I wouldn't be able to sympathize with these characters who didn't seem much like me and were involved in destructive illegal activity. And yet I did find myself rooting for them all along the way.
The book kept me guessing til the end. Would they get caught or not? Would they evade the police? How would they do it? I wondered if the author would let them get caught to pay for their crimes or not. I found the ending to be very satisfying and it left me with a smile on my face.
I'd recommend this book to any person familiar with Southeast Utah. It really brought back some wonderful memories. This book is also for anyone who loves nature or hiking. Even if you would never dream of blowing up a dam, the characters' passion for unspoiled wilderness is contagious.
Kind of disappointing after reading Abbey's 'Desert Solitaire' (a nice piece of nature writing) This book was recommended to me by several friends who are avid cyclists and environmentalists. I thought i would enjoy the tale of these four 'eco-avengers' blowing up bridges and sabotaging construction sites. Instead I was bored by the writing and upset by Abbey's unabashed sexism and racism.
A modern day classic and still capable of stirring up people on both sides of the issue. Provocative,descriptive,sarcastic, humorous, engrossing and angry are just a few of the words that come to mind when describing Edward Abbey's most well known book. I do not consider myself a radical or hardcore environmentalist. I'm too much a product of the modern era for that. I ,and those I love, have benefited from the modern world and "evil" technology (modern medicine, computers and so on). However I also believe that we don't need to grow and develop for it's own sake and I do think attitudes have changed (somewhat) since Abbey wrote this novel. Be that as it may the message of the book is just as important today as it was in 1975, but there are a few weak points in the self-righteous armor that covers this issue.
I find it interesting that Abbey resided in a town and owned both vehicles and firearms. So while he wanted nature preserved he wasn't going to go back to animal skins and stone knives (neither am I). One could also point out that Abbey owed his living to the modern world. Books (dead trees anyone?), electricity (printing pressed aren't operated by hand anymore) trucks to deliver his books to bookstores (many in shopping malls surrounded by concrete) and on and on. Tying into this I remember getting great amusement when I watched "An Inconvenient Truth". There was footage of Al Gore being driven to his lecture in a gas guzzling vehicle. Then there is Al speaking to a large audience (all wearing clothing produced in factories) in a modern auditorium which was happily burning fossil fuels while Al terrified us........with the assistance of hi-tech communication devices made of plastic and using electricity. Doesn't anybody find the humor in this? Whatever side of the environmental issue you are on you have to admit the irony is amusing.
Okay enough snarkiness. "The Money Wrench Gang" is actually a very enjoyable read. It has a cheerful anarchistic tone that I liked. There is anger, but it never grows out of control and I never felt like Abbey was bludgeoning me with a scree. Authority figures don't come off very well, but sometimes those in positions of authority are pompous and heavy-handed. Abbey is critical of our consumer economy even though his characters have no trouble using it's products. However Mr. Abbey keeps the book moving along at a rapid-fire pace so that his readers don't really have time to think about such things. I believe it's only with the benefit of hindsight (forty years now since it was published!) that such inconsistency is more apparent. The book really takes off when describing the beauty and details of the Southwestern desert. Abbey loved nature and it comes through in the book. At times he goes on a little too long ,a la Henry David Thoreau, when describing nature and the universe, but not to the detriment of the story.
"The Monkey Wrench Gang" is a good novel. Both fun and provocative,it has aged very well. Credited with being one of the touchstones of the modern radical environmental movement I recommend it. It might make you angry, but I don't think you'll be bored.
Second time around. First time I've read this since 1978 or 1979.
The good news? It holds up! Let's farp up some bulldozers next weekend! Even better news: the brave cowboy, Jack Burns -last seen in -has a cameo with a slight return at the end.
But this is the story of George Hayduke and his pals Seldom Seen Smith, Bonnie Abbzugg, and Doc Sarvis and their attempt to reclaim the deserts of Utah and Arizona from the land reclamation ass-wipes Koch Bros., et al, Peabody Coal, Pacific, Gas, And Electric and the rest of all the heathen dogs succeeding under Don John Trump's EPA lately under F. Scott Pruitt and the U. S. Department of the Interior under Ryan Zinke.
Except when this book was originally published it was the Nixon/Ford administrations.
Sure, it's as dated as the barnacles attached to Don Johnny's massive flanks but it's fun and it's action-packed to boot. Lots of narrow escapes abound. The heart threatens to burst Alien-like from the chest. Along with all the suspense and action, you get Edward Abbey's poetic rhapsodizing over desert flora and fauna and scary-big skies.
I love this novel. No idea to whom I'd recommend this masterpiece. Could be that like me its time has expired.
This book is a great American Classic. It is impossible to fully describe its influence.
I love reading the comments about Abbey. He just pissed off everybody. This was when the so-called "environmental" movement in this country had balls and snark. Now, it's pot-lucks and social events, getting anything done as an afterthought. It's "being professional"=lobotomy.
Ed walked the land and knew the land. He knew the critters like they were his friends. He read the sky. He was about our AMERICAN LAND and he knew it, intimately. Somehow, the art of knowing the land has been subsumed by using public lands for exercise...and it doesn't matter a damn if you don't know the first thing about that tree seedling you just ran over with your mountain bike. The narcissists have found the out of doors but they look neat and trim...fit. This is what matters.
God Bless His Cantankerous Sexist Ass. We miss ya' Ed.
Chissà cosa penserebbe Edward Abbey, scomparso da più di 30 anni, di quanto sta succedendo oggi, con la natura che (finalmente, direbbe lui…) si ribella sul serio alla prolungata incosciente devastazione da parte della specie umana? Chissà, a quasi mezzo secolo dall’uscita di questo romanzo, se come accadde alla sua pubblicazione si possa ancora stigmatizzarne l’influenza che ebbe nell’ispirare i movimenti più estremisti di difesa della natura, fino e oltre le soglie dell’ecoterrorismo vero e proprio.
Valutare I sabotatori in chiave politica è riduttivo ma inevitabile. Il romanzo infatti, oltre ad essere un divertente e originale racconto d’azione ed avventura ambientato in uno dei territori più affascinanti della terra (mi son perso per ore su Google map ad esplorare fra i canyon dello Utah gli strepitosi luoghi descritti!), si spinge talmente in là nella meticolosa e quasi manualistica descrizione di materiali e sistemi per distruggere un ponte, un bulldozer o una diga, da indurre a riflessioni sul ruolo dell’autore.
Fra i numerosi impieghi con cui Abbey sostentò sé stesso e la sua numerosa famiglia spicca il lavoro di ranger e guida presso diversi parchi Nazionali, dato che lo accomuna a uno dei protagonisti del libro e accresce il dubbio se Abbey si sia limitato ad essere il fautore di un’estrema ideologia libertaria, naturista e individualista con evidenti implicazioni anarchiche, alla Thoreau per intenderci, o se la sovrapposizione col personaggio si sia estesa a una diretta partecipazione ad azioni di sabotaggio.
Poco importa; dal punto di vista strettamente narrativo, I sabotatori sconta soprattutto nella prima parte un debito evidente col classico racconto su una gang dalla formazione tutt’altro che inedita (il reduce dal Vietnam, l’intellettuale, la ragazza sexy, l’ex ranger esperto dei luoghi…) alle prese con un obiettivo comune che altrove abbiamo visto coincidere con una banca o qualcosa di simile, qui è rappresentato dalle attività umane che infieriscono sulla natura. Poi, soprattutto nella seconda parte, il romanzo si sviluppa nei topoi della fuga e della caccia all’uomo, attraverso espedienti fantasiosi che rendono i protagonisti quasi inafferrabili e ridicolizzano le preponderanti “forze dell’ordine” fino a un finale…da spoiler.
Il tono è un equilibrato mix di drammatico, umoristico, esistenziale dove azioni e riflessioni si alternano forse un po’ troppo a lungo, ma funziona anche come entertainement spingendo a fare il tifo per i fuggitivi, a prescindere dalle valutazioni etiche e politiche sul loro operato.
Basta guardare la bella faccia beffarda di Abbey, così come appare nella pagina stessa di goodreads, per capire come al tipo poco interessasse della propria reputazione. Per dirla con la calzante definizione che accompagna un altro libro dell’autore, Abbey sembra osservarci “…con gli occhi di un Thoreau disilluso, ci ricorda come la fragile meraviglia della natura venga sempre minacciata dal potere, e ci ricorda il costo e la gioia che si provano lottando per difenderla.”
OK I'll try not to say what other reviewers have said. First of all, I loved the drama, the ideas, the characters, but I didn't buy the ending at all so I deducted a star. The other star was deducted because of the at times clunky writing and I think the character's histories merited further discussion.
First what I liked: The plot is riveting, to the point of agonizing. You just want them to call it quits and save themselves! It can get a little bogged down in technical descriptions. Stylistically, it was reminiscent of a lot of old Western stories. In this work, the West is now the last essentially in tact wilderness in the U.S. At one point they even say something like, "The East is lost".
For me, the ideas in this book (environmentalism, anarchism, freedom, gender, sense of place, survival, sin, hypocrisy, etc) make this one of the most exciting, relevant, and rewarding reads I have had in a while.
I did see the sexism in the work, but considering the time frame (1970's), it wasn't all that out of place. Bonnie herself was just as strong and interesting as any of the characters.
However, I deducted one star because I felt the characters needed more of a history. The book basically starts off with Doc burning signs and right there, I felt that a disconnect existed. Why was he doing it? I know doctors that care about the environment. They don't burn down billboards for fun.
Secondly, I deducted a star because the ending really betrayed the ideas in this story. I don't believe Hayduke would have returned, nor would they have saw themselves as "victoriuos", nor would they probably have kept at it.
The characters to me, were essentially tragic ones. Yet when Hayduke returns, like the Lone Ranger, its just cliche and not what was being built up. His whole character was built up to have this death-wish syndrome and it was very realistically done. I just felt that I had been tricked into agonizing over this character, who it turns out, wasn't really in too much trouble.
The other characters were tragic as well. I mean there is just no discussion about how Bonnie's family felt or how their reputations were affected. In American society, getting sentenced by a court of law, as the characters did, is a tragedy.
Lastly, the result of all their actions was the the prosecutor got elected to office and goes on to make development a huge priority! So that's a tragedy for their cause as well. That is environment that you can't just "regrow."
So unreal was the ending, that I actually read it almost as if it was a dream, almost expecting Doc to be hallucinating.
(UPDATE: I just took a look at the reviews for the sequel to this book, titled "Hayduke Lives!" and was not surprised to find they consistently mention how the book fails to live up to the first, in that they didn't like the further development of Hayduke.)
I'd read Abbey's 'Desert Solitude', his book about living at the Arches on the Colorado, years ago at a friend's recommendation. Also, I'd admired Earth First, the radical environmentalist organization partly inspired by Abbey, long believing speciesism (favoring humans over other animals) ethically dubious. So, when two copies of his most famous novel appeared at Heirloom Books, I picked this one as something to read during slow times at the shop.
I was disappointed. Abbey writes well enough but not to my tastes. His long, detailed descriptions of heavy machinery, while indicating his familiarity with aspects of engineering and road construction, were too much for me while his prolix descriptions of desert environments became redundant after a while. The book is comic, but not in tune to my funny bone. The characters have no believable depth, seemingly more archetypal than realistic. I had to force myself to finish the thing.
I was also disappointed that it was all set in the southwest, in Utah mostly. Fortunately, I've been to Moab on camped along the Colorado, but I'd expected, being informed, I thought, by Earth First's actions against the tree harvesting industry, that there'd be some action in the Pacific northwest. But, no...no tree spiking here.
Finally, one must admit that this is a novel about what we commonly call 'terrorism' today, the protagonists having an insufficiently thought-out agenda as regards the proper place for humanity in the natural world and no explicitly agreed upon set of ethical standards by which to weigh the conflicting rights of various persons, groups and interests, including non-human ones. Indeed, there's even a willingness to kill others on the part of one of them and some near misses in that regard and, besides that, that character is a chronic litterer--in the 'unspoiled wilderness' even! (I very much dislike litterers). In addition to this the book has what might charitably be described as 'dated' ideas about relations between the sexes. The one major female character is raped by one of her lovers with no apparent harm done from the author's perspective, for instance.
Still, it's good that there's literature which calls into question, however fitfully, the human conceit that the planet and all its inhabitants are there for us to treat as we will.
I put this on my reading list because it's ground zero of the Earth First! environmentalist movement, the vandalism as civil disobedience. And I am not an Earth Firster, tree spiker, SUV dealership destructor, rescuer of bunnies from cosmetic labs, kind of girl. But how who doesn't not love virgin stands of redwoods and the wide, wide, endless sky of the American west and the watersheds of the Colorado? There was no doubt that this author loved the American west, knew the plateaus and cliffs, the wildlife. The descriptions in this book remind you to fall in love with this country all over again, the American Southwest is beautifully, lovingly portrayed in this story. Where's my pack and my sleeping bag because I need to go and rest on the slick rock under the milky way far from the ways for men.
I read this novel to give them 400 pages of my time to explain to me why they do what they do. But progress delayed is not progress defeated. A bulldozer destroyed is not victory. That without our exploding population we wouldn't need to capture the rivers for power, strip the forests for timber and ravage the earth for resources. At one point in the novel, a character actually proposes gathering stones and building houses from them so that we wouldn't need lumber, which would work if the population of the US was a million rather than 100s of millions. The engineers are the bad guys who want to put a chip up the hero's butt and make him calculate exponential factorials, pave the earth, dam the rivers, cloud the sky.
There is a tendency of people who live on the margins to make the assumption that anyone could live on the margins, that anyone could just say no and unplug from the grid. But for the rest of us, it's a lot more complicated than that.
Amazon.com Ed Abbey called The Monkey Wrench Gang, his 1975 novel, a "comic extravaganza." Some readers have remarked that the book is more a comic book than a real novel, and it's true that reading this incendiary call to protect the American wilderness requires more than a little of the old willing suspension of disbelief. The story centers on Vietnam veteran George Washington Hayduke III, who returns to the desert to find his beloved canyons and rivers threatened by industrial development. On a rafting trip down the Colorado River, Hayduke joins forces with feminist saboteur Bonnie Abbzug, wilderness guide Seldom Seen Smith, and billboard torcher Doc Sarvis, M.D., and together they wander off to wage war on the big yellow machines, on dam builders and road builders and strip miners. As they do, his characters voice Abbey's concerns about wilderness preservation ("Hell of a place to lose a cow," Smith thinks to himself while roaming through the canyonlands of southern Utah. "Hell of a place to lose your heart. Hell of a place... to lose. Period"). Moving from one improbable situation to the next, packing more adventure into the space of a few weeks than most real people do in a lifetime, the motley gang puts fear into the hearts of their enemies, laughing all the while. It's comic, yes, and required reading for anyone who has come to love the desert. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The summer after I graduated from college I spent a lot of time out west, roaming the country between Salt Lake City, Utah and the beautiful park land nearby; Zion, Arches, Canyonlands, and a personal childhood favorite of mine, Goblin Valley, where the shadows cast by the rocks in the twilight evoke ghoulish figures creeping up on you from all sides. I love these landscapes, so different from the Connecticut hills I grew up in – the colors, smells, and emotions of the American West are something all their own.
In the endless hours of driving between parks and camping along rivers lined with desert shrubs, I read The Monkey Wrench Gang and later Desert Solitaire. The latter wasn’t quite my style (it’s largely about desert biology) but The Monkey Wrench Gang was exactly what I needed at that time of my life.
The story revolves around a group of four misfits who find each other and bond over their equal fervor for protecting the American Southwest. Although the group practices minor attacks with the usual sand in the engines of bulldozers and syrup in their gas tanks, the main target in their scheme of eco-terrorism is the Glen Canyon Dam, which gives orderly control to the beautiful, forceful, and wild Colorado River. At times funny, at times poignant, The Monkey Wrench Gang shows why its author was called a “desert anarchist” and the “Thoreau of the American West.”
Go pick up this book, it’ll make you want to burn a billboard (not that I’m advocating that.)
One, as a novel. Edwards Abbey writes a blazing, funny, madcap zany story of a group of four anarchist friends, hell-bent to stop the development of the southwest wilderness by crushing dams, bridges, power plants and anything else they can. On the run from the local Mormon do-gooder Search&Rescue crew, the FBI, the National Park Service and anybody else they run into, the quartet is likeable, entertaining and extremely enjoyable.
The dialogue is massive. Dialogue drives the book, and it never clunks and is often wildly witty. There are more turns of phrase that make you gasp and laugh than anything else I've read.
The one female character is written perhaps a bit more sexist than you would find today, though she is certainly her own woman. The three men are all unique and grand personalities.
Monkey Wrench Gang compares well to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - less trippy, but just as grand and impactful. Less weird, more witty.
Second, as a call-to-arms for environmental anarchism: I suspect that to some, this novel is dangerous. The characters should be darker, less idealistic. The impact of their approach should be interpreted more brutally.
I think the novel provides a challenging commentary on American consumerism and our unwillingness to stop and consider the cost of our lifestyle. That it's packaged in a fun adventure story with amazing dialogue makes it all the more subversive.
Edward Abbey was my dad's favorite author. We once stayed at a place near Moab, Utah called Pack Creek Ranch. Our cabin butted up against Abbey's former shack, where he did his writing. Somehow it has taken me 10 years to pick up one of his books, and I'm so glad I did. The Monkey Wrench Gang makes even the most law abiding citizen (such as myself, haha) want to pour sand into the gas tank of a bulldozer. The book revolves around a plot to blow up Glen Canyon Dam, the travesty that drowned the canyon and subdued the mighty Colorado River. Ironically, the resulting reservoir is rapidly drying up due to drought and lack of water conservation, achieving without explosives what the Monkey Wrench Gang so desired.
I don't know...this book really is funny at times, and he has a very engrossing (if at times somewhat exhaustive) way of describing the southwest landscape; however, it's really just too long and rambling and boring for me. Plus, I wasn't quite sure what to do with the casual racism and sexism that's sprinkled throughout the book. I know Abbey was a satirist, so perhaps there is an element of satire involved in pointing out the racism of the white characters on both sides of the conflict (the developers/capitalists and the eco-anarchists). But it wasn't overtly critiqued either. So that's troublesome.
This is the third time I’ve read this book. The first being when I was about 12 or 13, the second, sometime in high school. As a middle aged man at this point, pushing 50, the nuances of the novel were different, but it still tripped some of those old triggers and gave me some insight about the course of my life.
So, to get it out of the way, in the social mores and attitudes portrayed in the novel are dated. It’s a little misogynist, a little bigoted, and the main character litters. I will give Edward Abbey some slack though. So. Let’s just go through it:
Women: To his credit, Abbey was one of the “Greatest Generation”, so including a woman at all in his novel is admirable – as well as his attempts to understand feminism. Today, the character of Bonnie Abbzug reads as a bit of a manic-pixie dreamgirl, but she is invested with her own motivations, and ironically, constantly complains that she isn’t being given enough tasks of a substantive nature. Again, look at the other “adventure” novels of the early 70’s being written by men – their women, if there are any, aren’t as well developed, or as feminist as Abbzug. So, kudos to Ed for trying.
Native Americans: Ed paints indigenous Americans with a pretty critical brush – portraying them as drunks who have absorbed and display the worst American-suburban/redneck traits. Ed pretty much portrays all people – Mormons, tourists, white people – with the same scolding eye – but what sticks out with Native Americans, is that Ed holds up in glory their “pre-war” state of being, without owning up to why Native Americans are in poverty and dispossessed of the qualities he abstractly admires. F- for that one.
Littering: C’mon. Ed. C’mon. “I shouldn’t throw the cans there? Well, the road shouldn’t be there in the first place!” (paraphrased) is not a good excuse for an environmental activist to have one of his characters throwing trash out the jeep window. Minor quibble of mine. Ironic. A little funny. Gets a lot of people upset though, and I think it’s funny they focus on the littering and not the drinking and driving.
Now that we’re done with that, let’s get on with the rest of it.
Despite certain dated aspects, the novel still held up very well for me. I felt the same twinges of the excitement I had when I first read it. This is a very passionate novel, and Abbey’s desire to *do something* to save his desert is incredibly apparent. In fact, this is a fantasy novel. Abbey admitted or bragged about doing some “night work”, and I wonder if at a certain point he realized the futility of fucking up a couple bulldozers and channeled his energy into writing a book about people capable of doing more – with the hopeful side benefit of inspiring his readers to get out and do something (which happened).
Out of the four Monkey Gangers, there are two characters which stand out, and respond best for Abbey’s core strength – writing about outlaws. (In fact, the third outlaw who infrequently appears in this novel, “The Lone Ranger” is Jack Burns from Abbey’s “The Brave Cowboy” – which is much edgier than the title makes it seem. The characters of George Washington Hayduke and Seldom Seen Smith (drawn from activists Doug Peacock and Ken Sleight respectively) are the most vivid and iconographic. Ed really understands these characters and makes them intense and vivid. Hayduke was perhaps the most powerful for me. As an adolescent in the 80’s searching for positive role models, Hayduke’s ethos quickly cemented himself in my psyche. Short, burly, pure animal and id, eschewing the disgusting mess of civilized life, for rootless wandering in the Southwest and moved to action, he became my spirit animal. Obviously, he was larger than life, and written to be an invulnerable superman of sorts (invulnerable… to everything but love…ha).
Seldom Seen, the “autochthonic patriot” is also a larger than life character. Lean and laconic, he hearkens back to Western archetypes. (That Abbey sees a lapsed Mormon river rat as superior to contemporary Native Americans is a little irksome.) But, Smith is incredibly affable, even as he commits acts of sabotage. He’s a great foil for Hayduke, and makes me wish that Abbey had written a prequel starring Seldom Seen. He and Hayduke are the ultimate modern desert outlaws. It’s a shame I can’t find anything written by Sleight himself. I think a book exists, but I can’t lay my hands on a copy.
Doc Sarvis, was my least favorite character. At the time when I was young and bursting with testosterone, I didn’t want to read about this old fat guy, pushing 50. Now that I’m an old, fat guy pushing 50, my opinions of Doc have changed. He’s admirable too because he puts it on the line. I can identify with his physical ineptness in comparison to the raw and powerful Hayduke, and hey – he’s charming enough to get the late-20-something girl…(which, today reads as pure aging white male fantasy).
Bonnie…we covered her. Again, underused. I’ll have to read the sequel to this book again to see how Abbey changed her character. I dimly remember something about her struggling to get out of a pool in a cave…so, maybe not that much.
The novel fired my imagination, and inflamed me with Ed’s burning desire for rugged-western-cowboy- independence and his clanging warning that the imperiled desert was just one example of man’s folly that was coming for all of us. As protestors still climb into old growth trees to protect them from being felled, or put themselves in front of up-armored cops to try and stop pipelines – or even sabotaging pipelines to challenge the corporate despoiling of the world, his book is still relevant. Today, as the PNW burns, I think many of us wish we had the skills, capabilities, and bravery that George Hayduke had to get out there and really do something.
Unfortunately, I think the tipping point has been surpassed and we’re heading into something dark. I think this is truly, “the Great American novel”. When my foreign friends have asked me to suggest a book that’s “really American”, I’ve always recommended this one. “Last Exit to Brooklyn” is also another great American novel – but The Monkey Wrench Gang ends on a lighter note. Ed had a sense of humor, and this is a comic farce.
The prose is great too. Abby can *write*. His descriptions of the flora, fauna and environs of the Southwest have earned him the sobriquet of the “Thoreau of the West”. His writing about the southwest wilderness were so intricate, nuanced, and powerful, they created very strong visions in my mind’s eye that are still as thrilling to read 35ish years after I read this book the first time.
So, this is a counterculture classic, as well as an American classic. Recommended, especially now at the twilight of humanity’s ability to tolerate the changing climate.
Is this the novel that launched a thousand torch-ins of private property in the American West? The American government would certainly like you to think so. THE MONKEY WRENCH GANG, from 1975, is widely credited, or accused, of having started the "deep ecology" movement in the United States. Adherents hold that it is morally permissible to attack machines and other instruments of the destruction of the environment, although never human beings, in the cause of saving nature and natural beauties. Abbey's gang targets strip mines, saw mills, lumber camps, etc. that are ruining the balance between man and nature. If they are a collection of zanies that may be because Abbey wants to satirize all mankind, a la' Swift, including "do-gooders." Abbey had gone down this road before, notably in his earlier novel LONELY ARE THE BRAVE, in which a modern day cowboy deliberately breaks the law and gets thrown into jail, from which he escapes, to show the loss of freedom that comes with modernizing the West. (Curiously, the novel was transformed into a terrific screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, whose leftist politics were the opposite of Abbey's. Perhaps they both simply despised authority.) Abbey cannot be readily categorized as left or right. He once called Mexican migration into the U.S. West "the single greatest threat to nature in the desert. (Maybe he was a premature "Build the Wall! kind of guy.) It's easy to see that this attitude towards ecology lends itself to all sort of political expression, from Anarchism to Fascism. In the USA we've seen the phenomenon of the Ku Klux Klan sponsoring highway cleanups, while Western Europe has the more ominous self-proclaimed "eco-fascists". THE MONKEY WRENCH GANG is still worth reading both as a manifesto of political environmentalism and a warning on pursuing that goal down a dark path.
Genteel Doc Sarvis, solid and faithful (though patently unfaithful in marriage) Seldom Seen Smith, wild George Hayduke and breathtakingly pretty if directionless Bonnie Abbzug make an unlikely band of eco-activists/bandits with questionable motives in this book perhaps loosely based on an actual group of bandits running around blowing up things they thought ecologically unsound in the 1970s.
Despite lots of action-packed sequences, this book really took me forever to get through. I started it in June some time, and even took it with me on a trip to New England in July (lots of plane, train and bus time) when I thought I'd come home in triumph, having finished the darn thing. But no, I didn't wrap it up until late August. I swear I put in good reading time on it, at least getting through about ten pages during my traditional before-bed reading time most nights (Ok, sometimes it was probably more like three or five pages...but still). I was not motivated to put in additional reading time to get through it more quickly, which is not to say I didn't like the novel. I did like it, I just don't think it was the most compelling thing ever. I certainly won't give it away, but a surprise twist at the end of the book made the slow reading time worth it.
Another point in this book's favor is the development of the characters. They are each eccentric, loveable and exasperating in their own ways. You grow quite attached to them. George Hayduke is battling some demons he brought home with him from Vietnam, Bonnie Abbzug is a compelling female character, by turns totally wimpy and willfully strong. She's compulsive and follows her heart's whims--she's smart, but perhaps not in a way that's very useful. Doc Sarvis is kind and well-mannered, and the most ethically sound one of the bunch, if a bit doddering and not as physically strong as he might be. The glowing eye of his constant cigar is somehow reassuring and morally grounding. Seldom Seen Smith has several wives (he's Mormon in the old way), but he is entirely faithful to the little band of misfits he joins. He also makes you think everything might just be ok--he understands nature, and respects it. He's a solid guide and a lover of nature--he perhaps has the most clear and direct motive for wanting to protect the natural environment.
Also, this book does make you think about our current environmental state, and what we should (and shouldn't) do in response to it. I also enjoyed the question of why these four could and couldn't justify their actions, and how thin the line can be between activism and terrorism, between righteousness and injuriousness.
I noted above that I recommend this book to people who read nonfiction. Although this is a fictional work, it has some of the flavor of a nonfiction documentation of events and people.
The Monkey Wrench Gang, probably Edward Abbey's most famous novel, about four main characters who sabotage various corporate assets in order to make a statement about their dissension with progress and modernism was first published in 1975. Although I am no proponent of anarchism, I found Abbey's novel very absorbing, if not sometimes a bit too technical during his passages describing the running of large machinery and the desert fauna and flora around southern Utah. Regardless of those descriptive paragraphs, the events that occur during the book are, in my opinion, exciting and keep the reader interested. In addition, Abbey had a statement to make, and I believe he succeeded, regardless of the reader's political proclivities. Considering the corruptive construction of the western United States and how so many places are being overdeveloped, I wonder if he didn't have a point.
In any case, each of the characters that Abbey created are what makes for the most entertaining aspect of this novel. "Seldom Seen" Smith, George Hayduke, Doc Sarvis, and Bonnie Abbzug are some of the most colorful characters that I have read in any novel. Each of them are so well described, that the reader feels he knows each of them including their motivations, idiosyncrasies, and desires. They may not be morale, but they are colorful and, in many ways, likeable, simply because of their sense of humor, lightness of heart, and reckless attitudes. I am sure each of those characters were part of the more cynical, rough-hewn, and maladjusted Abbey himself. It was like he had taken his own personality, separated it into four parts, and created each of those characters.
In summary, Abbey knew the material he was writing about, whether it was the geographic location of the southwest, the machinery and structures his endearing characters sabotaged, the law enforcement in that area, and the personalities of individuals who may have a propensity to go out and stop all this blasted progress (I hope no one is reading this - I'll have the FBI knocking on my door!). Well worth the read, even if you are a heartless egomaniacal urban planner.
P.S. A warning for any prospective readers: The language in this book is harsh, particularly during conversations that include George Hayduke. In addition, realize this book was published in the mid-1970's and includes the beat generation morality that emerged from the late 1950's with publishing of Jack Kerouac's On the Road.
Here's where my reading practice paid off: By avoiding the hype of what others say and have said about the author, I enjoyed his art in what I can only hope is how he originally had hoped it would hit his readers. Having read Desert Solitaire and a couple of brief interviews with the man, I was still shocked by the skillful quality of literature this book represents. It is not conventional in any way, in fact the four "protagonists" are all deeply flawed in many moral dimensions, including criminality. But they are oh so real, with charm and redeeming qualities as well. In fact, these four characters each represent an ideal of the dreams and desires of all human beings as they execute an eco-terrorist agenda. This has huge themes too, the destruction of nature and the blind exercise of commercialism, with its attendant loss of human community and basic resources. I'm in a hurry, and had flagged about 20 particularly piquant sections, but let me share just one (p 387/388) at the end, where one of the remaining two being pursued, reflects upon the next phase of escape amongst the canyon walls: "Hayduke schemes and dreams and cannot sleep. Too tired to sleep, too hungry, angry, excited and fearful to sleep. It appears to him that only one obstacle remains between himself and a wilderness autumn and winter down in the Maze, down there where he can lose himself at last, forget himself for good, become pure predator dedicated to nothing but survival, nothing but the clean hard bright pursuit of game. That ultimate world, he thinks, or rather dreams, the final world of meat, blood, fire, water, rock, wood, sun, wind, sky, night, cold, dawn, warmth, life. Those short, blunt and irreducible words which stand for almost everything he thinks he has lost. Or never really had. And loneliness, loneliness? Is that all he has to fear?".
Then about to abandon his sleeping partner: "Old Seldom Seen lies on his side, fast asleep, despite the thunder (for him a familiar and maybe soothing sound), head cradled on his arm, a smile on the homely face. The sonofabitch is smiling. Good dream for a change. He looks so vulnerable for the moment, so hopeless and helpless and almost human."
Can't help but love this stuff, muscular, bold, wild as can be... like the author himself as I imagine he wanted to be (and often was). RIP.