Finally, after 15 long years, the Monkey Wrench Gang’s all here. Doc Sarvis, he’s a pediatrician up in Salt Lake City; Bonnie Abbzug, she’s his wife now, a mother too, and pregnant with a second child; Seldom Seen Smith, he’s working as a guide, still got three wives; George Washington Hayduke, well, some say he’s dead, but actually he’s the bag lady right over there at that table in the cheap cafe.
The Lone Ranger is getting long in tooth, and he’s sprawled out cold in the privy, his glass eye rolling loose on the floor, his pockets stuffed with chicken entrails. The Monkey Wrench Gang is on probation and kind of hanging low. And Edward Abbey, he is dead, but here he is talking again in “Hayduke Lives!,” his final novel, and in many ways his last will and testament. Half a million copies of his 1975 book, “The Monkey Wrench Gang,” have been sold, and I want to set its many readers at ease right now: This is a comic last will and testament. Or, as the “author’s warning” notes:
“Anyone who takes this book seriously will be shot. Anyone who does not take it seriously will be buried alive by a Mitsubishi bulldozer.”
The troubles are pretty simple. Bishop Dudley Love of Alkalai County, Utah, is fronting for the nuclear industry’s Syn Fuels Corp., and right now Goliath, a $37-million drag line, is crawling like death toward Lost Eden Canyon in its quest for more of America to strip-mine and lay waste to. The Bishop’s getting old too (he does digitalis like a cokehead because of his bad ticker), but he’s still randy enough to be squiring a lady cop as his future second wife.
The book spins on efforts to halt the giant machine--"high as a hotel and taller than a grain elevator, heavier than 150 Boeing 727 jet liners, wide as a railroad barn or wider than six Caterpillar D-9 tractors lined end-to-end, with enough power to supply electricity for a city of 100,000!” The anarchist-environmental group, Earth First!, tries to stop the beast’s progress with a demonstration, civil disobedience and the like. Naturally, they get their heads busted. Or, as Doc Sarvis explains: “They’ll last until they become effective. Then the state moves in, railroads some of the leaders into prison, murders a few others for educational purposes, clubs and gasses and jails the followers and voila !--peace and order are restored.”
Sounds like work for the Monkey Wrench Gang! And so they saddle up for one more good hit against the . . . against the what? Against the crazed industrial death dance of America, against “the Enemy. The point . . . is to increase their costs, nudge them toward net loss, bankruptcy, forcing them to withdraw and retreat from their invasion of our public lands, our wilderness, our native and primordial home. . . .” And why--oh, Lord, why--should anyone destroy nice labor-saving machines? Well, “You do your needed work out of love, the love that dare not speak its name, the love of spareness, beauty, open space, clear skies and flowing streams, grizzly bear, mountain lion, wolf pack and twelve pack, of wilderness and wanderlust and primal human freedom and so forth.”
Sounds pretty grim? Don’t worry. I laughed out loud reading this book--not the least at Abbey’s periodic appearance in the text as “that seedy old buzzard from nowhere who called himself ‘a literary journalist’ and sometimes appeared at events like this, listening carefully, nodding, smiling, deaf as a stump, taking notes, getting his facts wrong but interviewing the prettier women at exhaustive length, exploiting public bravery for private profit and calling it . . . calling it what? He called it Art. Nobody knew his name, but his T-shirt read ‘Readin’ Rots the Mind.’ ”
And then there are these intrusions by some dolt called the “author"--"She wore--but who cares except the author?--faded Levi britches shrunken to a perfect fit (and what they fit was perfect). . . .” Which brings up another point: Yes, once again, Edward Abbey has something in here to offend everyone--women, various ethnic groups, types of cooking, brands of automobiles, you name it.
There are some surprises: a savage parody of an Earth First! rendezvous by the author whose work helped spawn the group; a chapter inside Bonnie Abbzug’s mind on that pitiful farce called men that echoes the less graphic efforts of James Joyce’s “Molly Bloom.” And violence. Four men die in this book and the blood is real. Women get their heads bashed in by cops. Children scream in terror. There is a chilling sense of prophecy amid the high jinks--after all, Earth First! was busted by the FBI a month or so after Abbey’s death last March, a bust that ended a two- or three-year surveillance that produced 1,200 hours of tape-recorded conversations.
And there is the “Code of the Eco-Warrior,” admonishing that proper actions result in no one getting hurt, no one getting caught, and “if you do get caught you’re on your own. Nobody goes your bail. Nobody hires you a lawyer. Nobody pays your fine.” The book fails to live up to these standards, as does life.
Is it any good? Yes, because the damn thing is alive. When you finish, the tale lives on in your head, which is the most a book can do.
This isn’t a sequel, this is a parting shot by a man you have to believe knew he would soon be dead (read the painful page-and-a-half dedication). Or is he dead? In this caper, as in the earlier one, folks have a way of rising up from the horizon and melting into the mist.
Earth First! recently published a posthumous portrait of Abbey as a vulture wheeling in the sky, a fine cigar firmly clasped in his grinning beak, a couple of sticks of lit dynamite clutched by his feet. Read the book and then we’ll talk. Hey, hand me a beer, there’s the work to be done.
Or, as Abbey explains: “The urge to destroy that which is evil, said anarchist Prince Bakunin, is a creative urge. How true. How bloody awful true.”