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    Q: What's your occupation?
    A: Cowhand, sheepherder; game poacher.

    Q: Where's your papers?...Your I.D.--draft card, social security, driver's license?
    A: Don't have none.  Don't need none.  I already know who I am.
 

Edward Abbey is one of the patron saints of the modern Environmental movement; right up there with Rachel Carson.  Desert Solitaire, his memoir of working in a National Park, is an impassioned statement of preservationist principles and his comic novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, is a virtual primer for ecoterrorism.  But my personal favorite of his books is the little remembered Brave Cowboy, the basis for the excellent but equally forgotten Kirk Douglas film, Lonely Are the Brave.  It belongs on the shelf with the other uniquely American paens to independence and rugged individualism:  One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest(read Orrin's review), Cool Hand Luke, From Here to Eternity  (read Orrin's review), All the Pretty Horses  (read Orrin's review), etc.

Set in the mid 1950's, the novel tells the story of Jack Burns, a latter day cowboy, now reduced to working as a hand on a sheep ranch, who gets himself thrown into prison so that he can help his draft dodging friend escape.  But when his buddy refuses to compromise the moral purity of his concientious objector status, Burns is forced to break out on his own, assuming that a vicious Mexican prison guard he has aggravated doesn't kill him first.  In the meantime the authorities have realized that Jack too is unregistered and that while they were in college together, he helped his friend with some radical causes, however ineffectual.  So when he does manage to escape, Jack ends up being treated as a dangerous fugitive, instead of as the fairly harmless eccentric that he is.  Pursued by locals, feds, the military and the sadistic guard,  he takes off into the desert, his only allies a high spirited horse, who's as much trouble as help, and a phlegmatic local sherriff named Morlin Johnson.

In a broader sense though, what the book is really about is the clash between the values of the old West and the bureaucratic, mechanized, regimented and federalized modern West.  Though it lacks the memorable set-pieces that distinguish the other books cited above and is admittedly none too subtle in portraying the menace of modern life,  it succeeds nonetheless because the character of Jack Burns evokes such nostalgia in the reader and like Don Quixote, we find the mental world that he lives in more attractive than the reality that has begun to crowd in on him.  I like the novel very much and especially recommend the movie.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (B+)

  

Websites:

See also:

Westerns
Book-related and General Links:
    -Encyclopaedia Britannica: Your search: "Edward Abbey"
    -Abbey's Web (Bio, Biblio, Quotes, Links, etc.)
    -ESSAY: In the Land of Laughing Waters (Edward Abbey, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of   A CLOAK OF LIGHT Writing My Life. By Wright Morris   (Edward Abbey, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE SECOND LONG WALK The Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute. By Jerry Kammer   (Edward Abbey, NY Times Book Review)
    -SPEECH: Free Speech The Cowboy and His Cow (April of 1985 it was given at the University of Montana)
    -INTERVIEW: AN INTERVIEW WITH EDWARD ABBEY... Eric Temple with Ed Abbey in December 1982.
    -Edward Abbey (Sandra Yost)
    -Ecology Hall of Fame: Edward Abbey  1927-1989
    -Bio: (PA Department of Environmental Protection)
    -EXCERPT: from Desert Solitaire  Terra Incognita: Into the Maze (Arid Lands Newsletter)
    -EXCERPTS: Edward Abbey   (1927-1989)  HONESTY IN A DISHONEST AGE
    -BIBLIO: Featured Author (Dream Garden Books)
    -LINKS: (American Literature on the Web)
    -PROFILE: Edward Abbey He loved to be in our face. Still does, no doubt. (Terry Tempest Williams,  Outside magazine, October 1997)
    -OBIT:  Edward Abbey, 62, Writer and Defender Of U.S. Wilderness (NY Times)
    -ESSAY: A FEW WORDS IN FAVOR OF EDWARD ABBEY  By Wendell Berry - 1985
    -ESSAY: A Few Reflections (Ernest Callenbach, author of Ecotopia)
    -ESSAY: Dead Reckoning: A Mexican Writer Comes To Terms With The Ghost Of Edward Abbey. (L u i s  A l b e r t o  U r r e a, Tucson Weekly)
    -ESSAY: GUEST SHOT  An Essay & Review  by John Bancroft Cactus Ed Rides Again
    -ESSAY: We need more irascibles like Edward Abbey (David Horsley, Amarillo Net)
    -ESSAY: EDWARD ABBEY: STANDING TOUGH IN THE DESERT  (Edward Hoagland, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of  DOWN THE RIVER By Edward Abbey  (Tim Cahill, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of CONFESSIONS OF A BARBARIAN Selections From the Journals of Edward Abbey, 1951-1989 (Tim Sandlin, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of  BEYOND THE WALL Essays From the Outside By Edward Abbey (Alice Hoffman, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE FOOL'S PROGRESS An Honest Novel By Edward Abbey (Howard Coale, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of  ONE LIFE AT A TIME, PLEASE By Edward Abbey  (Peter M. Leschak, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: Sheryl Cunningham  Book review 4-19-99  Journeys Beyond the Wall  Abbey, Edward

GENERAL:
    -Arid Lands Newsletter
    -Ecological Philosophy (Concepts, Authors, etc)
    -ESSAY: WRITERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE (Russell Martin, NY Times Book Review)

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