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Publisher's Summary

A passionate advocate for preserving wilderness and fighting the bureaucratic and business forces that would destroy it, Edward Abbey (1927-1989) wrote fierce, polemical books such as Desert Solitaire and The Monkey Wrench Gang that continue to inspire environmental activists. In this eloquent memoir, his friend and fellow desert rat Charles Bowden reflects on Abbey the man and the writer, offering up thought-provoking, contrarian views of the writing life, literary reputations, and the perverse need of critics to sum up “what he really meant and whether any of it was truly up to snuff.”  

The Red Caddy is the first literary biography of Abbey in a generation. Refusing to turn him into a desert guru, Bowden instead recalls the wild man in a red Cadillac convertible for whom liberty was life. He describes how Desert Solitaire paradoxically “launched thousands of maniacs into the empty ground” that Abbey wanted to protect, while sealing his literary reputation and overshadowing the novels that Abbey considered his best books. Bowden also skewers the cottage industry that has grown up around Abbey’s writing, smoothing off its rougher (racist, sexist) edges while seeking “anecdotes, little intimacies...pieces of the True Beer Can or True Old Pickup Truck.” Asserting that the real essence of Abbey will always remain unknown and unknowable, The Red Caddy still catches gleams of “the fire that from time to time causes a life to become a conflagration.”  

©2018 the Charles Clyde Bowden Literary Trust (P)2019 Audible, Inc.

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Up Against the Wall! We've come for your dozer!

If you are an Earth First!er, a lone monkeywrencher or just became a fan of Ed Abbey when you were in college, you'll enjoy this book. I especially encourage you to listen to the audiobook narrated brilliantly by Brian Troxell.

I had dinner with Ed Abbey once back in 1985 with the rest of the book department staff of The Nature Company (sic). Unfortunately, it was before I had ever read any of his work. In fact, the dinner was to celebrate the 10th anniversary hardbound republication of "The Monkeywrench Gang," extraordinarily illustrated by R. Crumb, who with his six or seven-year-old daughter was also in attendance at the dinner.

So I had pretty much nothing to talk to him about. I had just joined up with Bay Area Earth First! a month or two before and hadn't done a direct action yet. Thus, no tales from me to provoke similar stories from him or Crumb. And Crumb and he, it turns out, were two of the most quiet introverts I've ever met. These guys weren't Gore Vidal, with whom I also broke bread, earlier, in 1982 when he was running for the Senate and I was on the San Diego crew that ran his campaign there.

I hadn't read any Gore Vidal books yet either. But I knew my grandparents had Burr and a couple of other Vidal novels in their living room bookshelves. What I remember is Vidal coming up to me outside at the wine and cheese fundraising party we produced for him, and asking me–a lowly volunteer–about me, what was on my mind. That struck me as very thoughtful, since he was at the event to pitch rich wine-sippers. And no, I don't think he was trying to pick up on me.

I bought that 10th anniversary Monkey Wrench Gang hardbound and got it autographed earlier the day of the dinner, at the reception and book-signing we had for him at NatCo. I also bought the red t-shirt with R. Crumb's drawing from the book of the entire gang. I would start to collect and read Gore Vidal's essay books and novels around that time too. And that t-shirt was my favorite, which you can see in the photos and videos of me the day we sabotaged the first outdoor genetic engineering test site that would spray Frankenstein bacteria on strawberry plants (Viva! The Strawberry Liberation Front and The Mindless Thugs Against Genetic Engineering!)

Politically, Abbey and Vidal were prickly rabble-rousers and I've always considered them two of a kind, despite their significantly diverse personalities. And both of them, I've always thought, were more important as essayists than as novelists.

But I have no great stories to tell you about my experiences of both men, who had a tremendous impact on me; who were my literary cheerleaders and guides. At the dinner, the guest who struck me the most was Crumb's Carol Kane-looking daughter dancing in front of the fireplace.

You've now read everything I can remember about my times with both men!

I did know, however, how amazing it was that I got to be with these tremendous artists: three of the greatest at what they did in the world!

Charles Bowden knew Ed Abbey as a friend and fellow irascible writer of the West. I would say, if you drew a triangle and put Ed Abbey at one corner, Hunter S. Thompson at another and on top you put Abbey's character George W. Hayduke, that mix would produce Bowden in the center of the triangle.

I think I would have much more preferred to have a beer with Bowden, than Abbey. Now Abbey, Vidal, and Bowden are all gone. Those who knew them have their memories, and in the case of Vidal, there are abundant television records of him that survive to this day. Not so Abbey.

Fortunately, we do have this entertaining book, although Bowden confesses to the same problems I have recounting conversations with the Mighty Ed that are worth recounting.

Which is OK. All of these guys put everything in their work and it survives! That is not only what matters, but it is to be celebrated and toasted as often as possible, preferably with a local crew of your monkey wrenching cohort.

I'm even starting to reread all of Abbey's books in chronological order, starting with this one about him.

Bowden sells himself short. Even if there are few conversations recounted, the ghost of Ed Abbey arises throughout this book, usually driving recklessly past in his red Cadillac shooting at coal trains and laughing his ass off.

Abbey told Bowden that what the New York androgyne critics don't get is that when he wrote novels it was all about play. If they don't get that then they just have their heads up their pompous abundant chem-food-fertilized asses.

What is especially fortunate is that Bowden was a brilliant writer too, and so we get Bowden and Abbey in this book. Abbey, born in 1927 was part of the Silent Generation that followed the WWII GI Generation. That was my parents generation too. Maybe that explains Abbey's austere Abraham Lincolnesque visage and introversion. We can see Abbey's sexual escapades and Red Caddy as an effort to escape that mass android-like alienation of what was otherwise, to my mind, the Worthless Generation.

Bowden, born in 1945, was an original Baby Boomer and hippie hellraiser, from a generation with psychologically-absent fathers, and morally-vacuous parents who let the psychopaths running our federal government ship them off to Vietnam and turn their boys into murderers. So Bowden had his own alienation too.

If you too are alienated, and pissed off enough to do something about it, you might want to grab a sixer from the fridge and sit down at the virtual bar that is this book, to kick back and shoot the shit with these restless late neighbors and comrades of ours.

And then, pick up some book by Abbey that you've never read. Bowden would be thrilled if that's what comes out of you reading his book.

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epic absolutely worth it

realtor loved it can't begin to describe how it made me feel. made me feel like I miss a friend, whom I have never met.

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A slim treasure

Provides deep insight into the character and significance of both Abbey and Bowden. A must read for those who appreciate either writer, or their critics.