A sophisticated blend of memoir, biography, romantic travelogue, history and psychology, creating a marketable modern myth about a pseudo-saintly survivalist.
Sundeen (The Making of Toro: Bullfights, Broken Hearts and One Author's Quest for the Acclaim He Deserves, 2003, etc.) tells the tale about how he crossed paths with Daniel Shellabarger, aka Suelo, amid the hip atmosphere he calls “Moab Chic.” The author juxtaposes a suicide attempt by Suelo against his present lifestyle, evoking the image of the phoenix rising from the ashes: “Daniel Shellabarger died as a modern man driving his car over a cliff, and was reborn as an eternal man—without money or possessions, with only his two feet and two hands, trying to climb back to the top.” Some readers may find it difficult to figure out whether the subject is a saintly figure, a madman or a clever political huckster. In addition to the suicide attempt, Sundeen examines Suelo's repeated mental breakdowns over a period of a few years—“I may have sacrificed my sanity but have gained something indescribable that is eternal”—and then explains how Suelo now essentially lives without money. A dumpster-diver who has repudiated the modern cash economy and lives in a cave, he has also been a regular housesitter over more than two decades. In exchange for food and shelter, he barters his services and does volunteer work, but he does not accept money (or pay taxes). Suelo is not shy about self-promotion on his website and Facebook page, where he also promotes this book but gives top billing to his organizing efforts against banks and taxation. Hopefully he is genuine about his mostly impressive lifestyle choices, but it’s occasionally difficult to discern his motives from this text.
An ambiguous collaboration, with sundry forms of cross-marketing that raise a caveat lector sign for readers willing to take the plunge and read this modern picaresque.