James M. Cahalan, Author . Univ. of Arizona $27.95 (357p) ISBN 978-0-8165-1906-4

With a subject as mythic as Cactus Ed Abbey (The Fool's Progress; The Monkey Wrench Gang), separating fact from fiction requires the skills of a researcher like Cahalan (Double Visions: Women and Men in Modern and Contemporary Irish Fiction)—particularly because Abbey promoted much of the fiction himself. Affectionate but not besotted with his subject, Cahalan presents Abbey's strengths and shortcomings in equal light and without judgment, in the end clearing up many misunderstandings. For example, while Abbey was a promiscuous womanizer who married five times and had many affairs during all but his last marriage, his reputation, particularly among feminists, as a misogynist is, according to Cahalan, unfounded. Self-indulgent in the extreme and defiantly immature (he largely neglected his two sons by his second wife), Abbey admitted that he loved to be in love. From age 17, when he left his home in Indiana, Pa., on his first cross-country hitchhike, until his death at 62, Abbey was a lustful wanderer. In particular he explored the Southwest, which claimed his heart and impelled his most passionate environmental activism. Although he never met Abbey, Cahalan became fascinated by the writer when he received an appointment to teach English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, in Abbey's hometown. Cahalan conducted interviews with more than 100 people who knew the writer, and immersed himself in Abbey's published and unpublished work, including personal letters and journals. Indeed, the bibliography alone—the most comprehensive one on Abbey to date—is reason enough to buy this beautifully rendered, sensitive and revealing work. The Abbey Cahalan presents—complex, contradictory and passionate in his convictions—fully deserves his larger-than-life status. 30 photos. (Nov. 1)

Forecast:With blurbs from Robert Redford and Larry McMurtry, this should be popular with environmentalists and lovers of the American West.

Reviewed on: 10/22/2001
Release date: 09/01/2001
Paperback - 357 pages - 978-0-8165-2267-5
Paperback - 357 pages - 978-0-8165-2339-9
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