The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey is the story of four pseudo-anarchists waging a war of sabotage against the corporations and government workers who are bulldozing and paving over the last bits of pure American West.
The really amazing thing about Edward Abbey books is how he can turn nearly anyone into an environmental anarchist while their reading. Maybe it’s the sense of loss that he instills, talking so passionately about a unique and beautiful part of the country that has been broken down and softened to make it easily accessible and palatable to the great touring middle class. It’s a wilderness that ceased to exist before I was born and Abbey writes about it with such anger and sorrow that you can’t help but feel like pitching in to destroy some piece of the machine that knocks away trees and dams up rivers for highways and housing developments. Certainly right now there are probably plenty of people looking to destroy some BP machinery, just to stop the all consuming beast of commercial-industrial production. Of course the logical and rational part of your brain tells you that eco-terrorism doesn’t really accomplish much and just hurts the environmental movement in the public eye, but the sheer cathartic “Fuck you!” to all the opportunists who are wiping out the last vestiges of unique country is so tempting.
As far as the quality of the fiction, Abbey is above average, but isn’t change the world with his prose. He can move between the concrete and the poetic at will, which goes a long way towards instilling the reader with the aforementioned sense of anger and loss, but I rarely felt the need to just stop and savor any particular passage. His characters are all well fleshed out and unique, but outside of revealing a few more concealed facets of their personalities, he doesn’t spend too much effort giving them any sort of developmental arc. The action is engaging, especially because the characters and their struggle is so sympathetic, and Abbey really shines with in his authenticity. This is an author that knows and loves the West and has a vast knowledge of how to survive and sabotage and thrive in the desert, and that fuels the story and makes it far more engaging than it would be if it was clear that the author was pulling the details out of thin air.
The Monkey Wrench Gang is just a good book and that’s all there is to it. It may not have the deepest themes or the strongest imagery, but it’s a book that makes you rethink the cost of the comforts you enjoy and whether it might be better to just burn the whole thing down and start again. I can’t think of many other stories that have that kind of effect while still telling a fun adventure tale.