17 February 2016
Probably the most important book I ever read was Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. It opened my eyes to a passionate, unapologetic way of living in the world, of embracing visceral experience of the natural world. It spoke to my heart in an authentic way, and changed my world view permanently. I was in college then. I went on to read everything Abbey wrote, and while none of it was as good as Desert Solitaire in my view, there were some other gems in the oeuvre too. I loved the iconoclastic, independent Abbey persona, and found inspiration in his words, even if I didn’t always agree with his theses. It looks like Sean Prentiss had a similar experience – deep, essential inspiration, unsullied by Abbey’s harsh, hypocritical attitude toward immigration, his philandering, his drinking and driving, his advocacy of littering as a form of public commentary. When an author is as inspirational as Abbey was, it’s easy enough to overlook a few of his trespasses.
What Prentiss did in this book was clever – he takes us back to look at the great author’s legacy nearly three decades after Abbey’s death. Finding Abbey documents a series of interviews Prentiss conducted with Jack Loeffler, Doug Peacock, Ken Sleight, and David Petersen. But he’s also physically looking for Abbey – specifically for his illicit desert grave, a legendary last act of defiance by Abbey against the management of the public lands he adored so dearly. The search for that grave site is a theme both tactical and metaphorical that weaves through the book, and the book concludes when the search concludes – though Prentiss has a hard time pinning that exact moment down. As an Abbey fan for 20 years, it was an enjoyable read for me to re-examine what Edward Abbey’s meaning is for me, now that I’m middle-aged and mortgaged, trading in firebrand for fatherhood. If you, too, were inspired by Abbey, and it’s been a while since you thought about him in detail, this is a great excuse to reacquaint yourself.