cover image The Serpents of Paradise: A Reader

The Serpents of Paradise: A Reader

Edward Abbey. Henry Holt & Company, $25 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-3132-4

The late Abbey was not only a singularly talented novelist some of whose books have acquired cult status (The Brave Cowboy; The Monkey Wrench Gang; The Fool's Progress), but also a polemicist of considerable force and an eloquent essayist. This anthology, edited by his longtime editor and friend Macrae, makes for a splendid summary of his best work--though it does not slight his faults. Abbey was above all a committed craftsman (``I write to make a difference''); and his passions--about the rape by ranchers and the industrial powers of his beloved Western desert country, the progressive disintegration of the quality of modern life, the dread development that would ``democratize'' wilderness by making it easily accessible to all--are on plain view. So, too, are his liabilities: his occasional outbursts of xenophobia and old-fashioned sexism, his gleefully overweening destructive fantasies. Abbey was an anarchist at heart, an often difficult loner who would probably find life unendurable in any organized, populous society. But as an analyst and gadfly of so many contemporary absurdities, and as a powerfully lyrical chronicler of desert solitudes and communion with nonhuman nature (something like Barry Lopez in a snit), he is in a class by himself. Anyone who doesn't already know his work will find this volume, culled from more than a dozen books of fiction and nonfiction, an addictive introduction. (Mar.)