1975; 422 pages. New Author? : Yes. Genre : Contemporary Fiction; American Literature; Eco-Political How-To Manual; Middle-Brow. Overall Rating : 8*/10.
Meet the Monkey Wrench Gang.
George Hayduke. A Vietnam vet and ex-Green Beret. 25 years old and hails from Tucson, Arizona. Has a habit of measuring distances in units of six-packs. Tucson-to-Vegas: 3 six-packs. Phoenix-to-Los Angeles: 4 six-packs. Etc.
“Seldom Seen” Smith. A Jack Mormon who was born in Utah and still lives there. Has three wives, all of which are kinda cool with that. Earns a living as a river guide, and longs for the world he grew up in. Don’t we all, Seldom, don’t we all?
Doctor A. K. “Doc” Sarvis. A surgeon, and a rich one. Smokes cigars. No wives, but has a trophy girlfriend. His favorite pastime is burning down billboards. Everyone should have a hobby.
Ms. Bonnie Abbzug. A nurse by trade, and assistant to Doc Sarvis. Likes to help him burn down billboards. Described as a “sexualized feminist”, whatever that might be. Likes to smoke up. You know what they say: “Give a girl enough rope and she’ll smoke it”.
Their paths will all cross on one of Seldom’s guided river cruises. And they’ll find they all have one thing in common – a strong desire to stop industries – any and all industries – from tearing up the landscape in the Four Corners area of the grand Southwest.
What’s To Like...
If you’re the kind of reader who hates having to keep track of a slew of characters, The Monkey Wrench Gang is perfect for you. The story is almost entirely about the shenanigans of our “gang of four”. The only other people to take note of are Bishop J. Dudley Love and Park Ranger Edwin P. Abbott, Jr. The settings are also easy to remember, they're all in the Four Corners area.
I liked the story’s structure. We tag along with Doc in the prologue as he practices his hobby; then get acquainted with the four main characters, one chapter at a time. After that, it’s all about the hijinks perpetrated by our heroes, the wit and wisdom of their conversations, and Edward Abbey’s sweeping descriptions of the great outdoors, to let you know what they are trying to preserve.
The book is an amazingly detailed “how-to” manual for eco-terrorists. The Wikipedia article quotes several eco-activists describing how great an impact it had on them. Indeed, Wiki claims that the use of the term “monkey wrench” as a metaphor for sabotaging something springs from this book. If you want to learn how to disable earth-moving equipment, destroy a bridge, burn down a billboard, or even blow up a dam; this book will teach you everything you need to know.
The writing is superb, and the book is a vocabularian’s delight. There’s a slew of cussing, including some in Spanish. This apparently offended some Amazon reviewers, but it didn’t bother me. And while Bishop Love is the Monkey Wrench Gang’s bane, the real baddies here are Peabody Coal (mining), Arizona Public Service (electricity), Black Mesa & Lake Powell Railroad (transporting natural resources), Exxon, Reddy Mix Cement & Gravel Company, and the American Forestry Association (clear-cut logging). It was weird to see Smokey the Bear cast in a negative light.
The ending had some twists, and everything built to a satisfying and exciting climax. But it was also somewhat easy to predict the outcome. There’s only one way for a four-against-the-world struggle to be resolved. I thought the epilogue was great, although you could suss out what was going to happen even there. This is a standalone novel, and there is a sequel. I label this a “middle-brow” book, suitable for book clubs.
Kewlest New Word ...
Apocdictic (adj.) : clearly established and beyond dispute.
Others : Concatenate (adj.) Acedia (n.) Empyrean (n.) Virescent (adj.) Arcologium (n.) Raddled (v.)
“This here’s ahr air and I reckon we know best what we want to do with it. We don’t like them outsiders from the Sahara Club tryin’ to tell us what we can do with ahr air.”
“Okay, but look at it this way, Calvin. Keep your fscking air here halfways clean and you can sell it to them city dudes by the jugful, like pure-spring drinking water.”
“We already think of that. There ain’t enough money in it.”
“You could put meters on their noses when they cross the state line.” (loc. 2673)
Smith sighed. “Three things my daddy tried to learn me. ‘Son,’ he said, ‘remember these three precepts 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.” (loc. 5234)
The Monkey Wrench Gang sells for $8.99 at Amazon. Edward Abbey has another dozen or so books available for the Kindle, all in the price range of $7.59-$9.99.
Om sweet om: be it ever so humble …” (loc. 731)
I didn’t really have any quibbles with The Monkey Wrench Gang, but if you’re not concerned about things like global warming, the rapid pace with which we’re using up our natural resources, and overpopulation, I can see where this might be a bit of a slog. And I must admit, the book was initially a slow read for me. But things sped up once the Gang became activists.
It also helped that I live in Arizona, where part of this book takes place. When Edward Abbey mentions The Arizona Republic, hey, that’s my newspaper. When he talks about McCulloch chain saws, well, that was the company (and the developer of Lake Havasu City) that spurred my parents to move to Arizona from back east.
8 Stars. One personal anecdote. I am not an eco-terrorist, and the one and only time I attended a Sierra Club meeting, I was bored silly. However…
Back in my college days, one of my daily activities each summer was to take the family dog for a constitutional up in an undeveloped hill a block behind our house. He loved it! I’d let him off the leash, and he had a fine time chasing rabbits, yapping at birds, running and sniffing wherever he pleased.
One summer I came home to find the whole hill plowed up, the first step in developing it into a subdivision. The streets and house lots were already staked out. Ugh. There goes the ecosystem. No more rabbit-chasing for my dog.
So I started my own little rebellion. Every night when I walked the dog, I’d pull up a bunch of those stakes. It made me feel good, and since I walked the dog at sundown, long after all the construction workers had gone home, it seemed a safe way to slow down their project. Until one night, about three weeks into my little campaign of sabotage, what did I espy? A big, burly guy sitting in a pick-up up on one of those staked-out streets. Just a-watching. My small acts of defiance had obviously irked the construction company into taking preventative action.
Prudence was therefore called for. And thus ended my eco-protest.