An unflinchingly honest writer addresses the death of his friend and kindred spirit Edward Abbey (1927-1989).
Since Abbey’s death, he has been canonized as some sort of environmental saint, memorialized through what Bowden (Dreamland: The Way Out of Juarez, 2010, etc.), who died in 2014, has called the “Dead Ed Industry,” which has made him a hero to many whom the author disparages as the “mush-headed-crystal-gazing-safe-sex-tofu-munching souls.” Like Abbey, Bowden was first considered a nature writer before turning his attention to drug wars and other violence across the Mexican border. Both had an ornery streak, with Bowden occasionally recalling a more disciplined Hunter S. Thompson, without the self-indulgence. He is cleareyed, and he pulls no punches, whether writing about “the seriously haunted ground” where he lives—“the earth here is dotted with ruins and from time to time you can feel the bony hands of the dead on your shoulders”—or describing the process of honoring his late friend: “I feel like I’m being asked to introduce a badass rap singer to a herd of seminary students.” This concise, pithy volume focuses on a panel discussion he reluctantly moderated to celebrate Abbey and raise funds. He then uses that event as a springboard for all sorts of memories and meditations on Abbey, his literary reputation, fame in general, and the posthumous sanitizing that has rendered this cantankerous anarchist as neutered and housebroken. “The only safe way to keep dead people dead,” writes Bowden, “is to forget they were ever alive and lived in a manner as messy and sad and happy as the rest of it.” Abbey lives within these pages, which Bowden wrote in 1994, shortly after the conference on Abbey. This belated publication should not only send readers back to Abbey, but also back to Bowden’s work.
A memoir about an American original by an American original, a literary journalist who merits more than a regional readership.