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Cahalan, James M. Edward Abbey, a life.

Univ. of Arizona Press. 357p. illus. notes. index. c2001. 0-8165-2267-7. $16.95. SA

This is a successful attempt to separate the fact and fiction (author's stated purpose) surrounding a sometimes controversial writer. Cahalan has obviously done the research and knows Abbey's life and work, which is well documented in journals and writings and attested to by friends and relatives. Born in 1927 in Indiana, PA, Abbey created for himself a rebellious, sexist, racist, and sometimes just crazy persona as a Western writer. But many knew him, in the words of Barbara Kingsolver, to be "gracious, respectful to the point of deference, and wonderfully guileless ..." Labels and attitudes that became associated with him are just as easily refuted as proven by his life and writing. Much of the fiction was his own doing; calling Home, PA his birthplace, which was listed in most reference sources as fact. With his deep love for the natural surroundings of the American West, burning billboards, tossing beer cans on the highways, and his FBI file, Abbey is an enigma. His thesis subject was anarchism, which remained his lifelong political persuasion. Beginning in high school, writing was the career of Abbey's life. He earned an actual living sporadically, rarely doing the same job more than a year until the last decade of his life, when he held a university position. He was restless by nature and married five times, remaining faithful only to his last wife. He fathered five children and had meaningful relationships with three of them. His most popular book, Desert Solitaire (1968), became required reading after the 1970s influence of the Earth First! Movement, which was avidly supported by Abbey. His novels (the best known is The Monkey Wrench Gang) borrowed heavily from his personal life and experience. His best works were his many essays and his constant protest letters and responses to other people's protests. He loved controversy. His popularity increased after his death in 1989 and his illegal burial at a remote desert site in Arizona.

Cahalan's work chronologically deals with life events and writings and their influence on one another. Extensively footnoted and indexed, it is an accurate and thorough inquiry into Abbey's life; a must for the Abbey enthusiast or anyone researching the environmental movement of the 20th century. Ann Hart. Trustee, Juniata county Library, Mifflintown, PA
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Author:Hart, Ann
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 2003
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