The Monkey Wrench GangBook - 2000
Edward Abbey called The Monkey Wrench Gang a "comic extravaganza," which it is, although one with a clear, serious message: to protect the American wilderness from the forces of commercial enterprise. The story centers on George Hayduke, an ex-Green Beret and Vietnam vet, who returns to the Southwestern desert after the war to find his beloved canyons and rivers threatened by industrial development. On a whitewater rafting trip down the Colorado River, Hayduke joins forces with three others who share his indignation and want to do something about it: feminist saboteur and Bronx exile Bonnie Abzug, wilderness guide and outcast Mormon Seldom Seen Smith, and libertarian billboard torcher Doc Sarvis, M.D. Together they venture off to become eco-raiders, waging war on the strip miners, clear-cutters, and the highway, dam, and bridge builders who are turning their natural habitat into a wasteland. The misadventures of this motley group make for an uproarious blend of chaos, conflict, and comedy.
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I appreciated nothing of this country, the actual landscape, until high school, when a friend introduced me to the Southwest via a book called The Monkey Wrench Gang, by Ed Abbey. In it, the land is essentially one of the characters. With that, my days out east were numbered -- as were my days of ignoring the land. (more)
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[Polygamist, faux Mormon, Seldom Seen] Smith sighed. ‘Three things my daddy tried to learn me. ‘Son’, he always said, ‘remember these three percepts and you can’t go wrong: One. Never eat [at] a place called Mom’s. Two. Never play cards with a man named Doc.’ He halted. ‘Deal me in.‘ 'That’s only two.’ Bonnie said. ‘I never can recollect the third, and that’s what worries me.’ (p. 308) ...
“Silence. More silence. ‘Now I remember that third precept,’ Smith says, smiling at grim, glum, grimy Hayduke: ‘Never get in bed with a gal that’s got more problems than you have.’” (p. 380)
“Doc Sarvis was thinking: All this fantastic effort – giant machines, road networks, strip mines, conveyor belt, pipelines ... loading towers, railway ... train ... coal-burning power plant; ten thousand miles of ... high-voltage power lines; the devastation of the landscape, the destruction of Indian homes, grazing lands, shrines and burial grounds; the poisoning of the ... air ... in the 48 contiguous United States, the exhaustion of precious water supplies – all that ... labor and ... expense and all that ... insult to land and sky and human heart, for what? All that for what? Why, to light ... Phoenix suburbs not yet built, to run the air conditioners of San Diego and Los Angeles, to illuminate shopping-center parking lots at two in the morning … to charge the neon [lights] that makes the meaning (all the meaning there is) of Las Vegas … to keep alive that phosphorescent putrefying glory (all the glory there is left) called Down Town … U.S.A.” (p. 173)
“’I was a [Viet Cong] prisoner,’ Hayduke goes on. ‘14 months in the jungle, always on the move. They’d chain me to a tree at night ... Fed me moldy rice, snakes, rats, ... whatever we could find. ... I was their unit medic … After 14 months they threw me out … Said I ate too much. Said I was homesick. And I was. I sat in that rotting jungle every night ... and all I could think about was home. And I don’t mean Tucson. I had to think about something clean and decent or go crazy, so I thought about the canyons. … I thought about the mountains from Flagstaff up to the Wind Rivers. So they turned me loose. Then came 6 months in Army psycho wards … The Army thought I wasn’t adjusting right for civilian life. Am I crazy, Doc? … Anyhow, when I finally got free of those jail-hospitals and found out they were trying to do the same thing to the West that they did to that little country over there, I got mad all over again.’ Hayduke grins like a lion. ‘So here I am’.” (p. 359-360)
Violence: A lot of damage to property; and car chases with gun shooting - but no one is killed.
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This Harper-Perennial 'Modern Classics' edition provides a helpful Introduction with background on the author and the context for the novel; and at the back: a timeline of major events in Edward Abbey's life (1927-1989); a book review from the New York Times of November 1976; and a prescient essay on "The Desert Anarchist" by Bill McKibben drawn from The New York Review of Books, August 18, 1988.
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