Reflections on the lighter side of living in the high desert of northwestern Nevada.
Branch (Literature and Environment/Univ. of Nevada, Reno; Raising Wild: Dispatches from a Home in the Wilderness, 2016, etc.) is a “confirmed desert rat” on a mission. This includes eradicating ideas that the Great Basin Desert is little more than a “barren wasteland” and expanding traditional environmental narratives that celebrate men in “brave [wilderness] solitude” with humorous portraits of family life. For the author, the desert is not just where he can live in a solar-powered house and bluster to his heart’s content. It is also a place characterized by the delightfully bizarre and unexpected, such as the stack of “well-preserved Nixon-era Playboy magazines” he stumbled upon during a random walkabout or the “desert shoe tree,” which is “festooned with hundreds of pairs of shoes.” The inhabitants are equally eccentric. For example, in the essay “Customer Cranky,” Branch tells of hilarious run-ins with his oddball mail carrier, whom he characterizes as a crusty “Femailman” with hairy arms, red nails, and a penchant for never delivering his subscription of the New Yorker. The author’s comic rants extend equally to members of his own family, including a daughter he calls a “feral child” who was “equal parts cute little girl, Hollywood stunt double, and simian beast” and a bird dog that was good for doing little more than producing “toxic” flatulence and hiding from the “critters” he was supposed to chase away. In an attempt to understand his desert fascination, Branch considers The Misfits. Arthur Miller, who wrote the short story on which the film was based, concluded that the people of the Great Basin sought escape, but Branch counters that with the idea that in the greatest apparent emptiness, everything ultimately exists. Lyrical and subversive, the book is a rollicking celebration of living a joyously untamed life.
An engagingly quirky collection.