MEZCAL by Charles Bowden


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The author of two elegaic ecological explorations of the American Southwest (Blue Desert, 1986; Frog Mountain Blues, 1987) now excavates his own tormented life--and its relation to the land he loves--in a series of powerful, imagistic autobiographical essays. Like the desert he cherishes, this memoir is harsh yet lovely, full of sour self-truth: ""For my entire life I have hungered for the smell of earth and lived on carpets of cement and asphalt."" The symbol that Bowden fastens onto for his life is a bottle of mezcal, ""a cheap distillate of the agave with a worm in the bottom of the bottle. . . always finish the bottle."" And so his autobiography careens like a drunk, speeding driver down a technicolor highway of memory, beginning with a flash of high-school classmate Charles Schmid, able to do 500 sit-ups at one stint and soon arrested for the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl. Violence--and violent sex--continues to stain his life as he hooks up with wild, masochistic Susan in Mexico (she deliberately sets herself on fire years later), dabbles in radical politics and guns, homesteads in Vermont, and finally drifts back into the American heartland, where even the dream of the desert is now patched and ragged: ""I am a lover of dead gods. . .I can yearn but I cannot act. My mind has been rewired and the gods are gone. I will never believe in them, not for a single day. But still I yearn. . ."" And so--back to Mexico, where he and Susan once took many drugs and she hiked up her skirt, exposing herself to border guards in a paroxysm of life: ""I can hear Susan laughing again. I can smell the desert seeping through the open windows. I want a drink, but just one. It will be mezcal."" A potent presentation of the wounds of one man's life, packed with indelible impressions; but there's little healing here, making this a bitter if beautiful read, and finally Bowden's reverie is so personal as to speak ahnost to him alone.

Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 1988
Publisher: Univ. of Arizona Press