Edward Abbey’s Last Book: A Sneak Preview

Read the first chapter of Hayduke Lives!, the posthumous book by the late novelist, essayist, and environmental advocate.

| November/December 1989

The New York Times Magazine has spoken of his "outrageous comedy" and "freewheeling willingness to be brash, irresponsibly satiric, happily excessive." Larry McMurtry has called him "the Thoreau of the American West." "The man," according to the Bloomsbury Review, "quite simply is a master."

"The man" is the recently late Edward Abbey.

Abbey was more than a popular novelist, essayist, and magazine journalist; a sought-after speaker on the university lecture circuit; a thorn in the collective side of despoilers of wildlands, wildlife, and human freedom and dignity. He was a visionary, a pathfinder, a master of descriptive prose who wrote with symphonic eloquence of his beloved West and its denizens.

The real Edward Abbey, the man I was privileged to call a friend, was not the rowdy, boisterous character he projected in print, but quiet, modest, thoughtful: a true gentleman who would rather listen—his heavy brow furrowed in concentration—than talk. Still, he was undeniably a character. An iconoclast who'd rather plug a hole in the front of a TV than plug in the back. The acknowledged wild card of western literature. A "gadfly with a stinger like a scorpion" (Wallace Stegner). "The original fly in the ointment" (Thomas McGuane). "A man still 'with the bark on' " (Edward Hoagland). As often as his writing was sensitive and eloquent, it was raw, bawdy, and gloriously unholy.

Of his seven novels and dozen volumes of nonfiction, the most widely acclaimed are the 1968 canyon-country classic Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wildernessan autobiographical account of Abbey's sojourn as a reluctant ranger in Utah's Arches National Monument (now Park)—and The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975), a rollicking tale of last-ditch ecological retribution. Unfortunately, this latter title is the only one of Abbey's works many readers have sampled, and while it is both thought provoking and great good fun to read, it certainly is not his finest hour; from a literary point of view, each of his other novels, save the first (Jonathan Troy), is superior. My favorite, as it was Ed's, is a slim and poignant little book called Black Sun. 

Edward Abbey's largest novel, and the final one to be published before his death on March 14 of this year, is The Fool's Progress: An Honest Novel. In this book, released in the fall of 1988, Abbey fictionally retraced many of his own past's rocky trails in a semi-pseudo-autobiographical story that may well be his greatest work of fiction. But not his last. Almost immediately after completion of Fool, perhaps aware that time was running out, Ed set to work on yet another novel, his eighth. This one he called Hayduke Lives!—a rallying cry for Earth First!, the no-compromise environmental group inspired by The Monkey Wrench Gang. 

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