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Hayduke Lives!: or, ecoterrorism for fun and profit!

Updated on September 12, 2012

I've read "The Monkey Wrench Gang" by Edward Abbey twice, once on my own and once for an Environmental Literature class. Abbey's novel is a classic, a story of four nature lovers who decide to directly attack what they see as the rapacious corporations destroying the wildlands of the Four Corners region of the Southwestern United States. Because I had liked the original book, I was looking forward to reading its sequel, "Hayduke Lives!" Well, I finally have, and it's just as good as the original.

Abbey's prose, admittedly, takes a little getting used to. Mostly it's because I get the distinct impression Abbey considers himself smarter and better than his fellow humans, and that can get a bit annoying after a while.His characters can also seem to be speaking with a very similar voice, especially the main four, who all project witty, sarcastic personalities that aren't identical but were a little too similar for me to not notice. However, it is refreshing how he's able to take the piss out of everyone, from lefty environmentalists to conservative businessmen who want to develop the land (even though Abbey's sympathies clearly lie more with the environmentalists). .

Also, for those of you who dislike literary paradoxes, try this one on for size: both the original "Monkey Wrench Gang" novel and Edward Abbey are mentioned as existing in the world of "Hayduke Lives!" (it's implied that this version of the book is a fictional recounting of the events of the original story), and Earth First!, an organization inspired heavily by Abbey's novel, plays a large part in the plot of this book. If that sort of thing annoys you, this is not the book for you, but I actually found it to be kind of cool.

The plot takes place several years after "The Monkey Wrench Gang" concluded. Three of the Gang had been arrested and spent a short time in jail, with George Hayduke having escaped justicw, currently presumed dead somewhere. But, as the title indicates, reports of Hayduke's death have been greatly exaggerated: he's alive and well, and he wants his old friends to help him out with a little scheme. A multinational conglomerate is wanting to build a mill to process nuclear fuel in rural Utah, using the world's biggest earthmover, the monstrous GOLIATH, to do it. Assisting them on the ground is J. Dudley Love, Mormon bishop, local rancher and developer, and old enemy of the Gang. It's going to take a miracle to defeat Goliath and frustrate Love, but Hayduke just might be able to do it.

As well as Love, Hayduke, and the other three members of the Gang (Bonnie Abbzug, Doc Sarvis, and Seldom Seen Smith), we have some new characters. There's the Lone Ranger, a mysterious old man always on a horse who's apparently been engaging in environmental sabotage since forever. There's J. Oral Hatch, a young former Mormon missionary who's currently working for the FBI to keep an eye on the former Gang members. There's the lovely Erika, a beautiful Norwegian woman who's come to the US to participate in the growing Earth First! movement, and to find Oral, with whom she is in love. And there's Ranger Ginny Dick, a female park ranger with whom Love has become smitten.

Of these characters, Oral and Ginny are perhaps the most interesting, because they are the most complex: Ginny sides with the forces of development, but sees the beauty of nature more than Love and his ilk, while Oral is torn between his duty and patriotism and his love for Erika. Erika herself isn't a bad character, but Abbey can only do so much with her: she is an extremely passionate idealist, she is heartstoppingly beautiful but only barely acknowledges the effect she has on the men around her, and she has a funny accent. As for the Lone Ranger, he is interesting but the mystery that surrounds him is never explained (or rather it is, but in such a way that the explanation is basically meaningless to the reader), which makes him a slightly pointless character. Love is your typical moustache-twirling villain, who thinks he is more clever than he actually is. Bonnie is a bit too witty and snarky, to the point where she can get a little annoying, and Doc is a bit of a windbag (then again, he's supposed to be), but in small doses their dialogue (especially with each other) is kinda fun. Smith was probably my favorite character, a redneck philanderer whose down-home love of the natural beauty of his surroundings seemed the most true motivation in the book. It was especially fun to see his interactions with his three wives, whom we actually get to meet in this book!

Hayduke himself seems oddly absent from the book with his name on it (giving room for other characters' development), but he is simultaneously omnipresent. Multiple times in the story Hayduke will turn up out of nowhere or a background character will turn out to be him in disguise. This transforms him from a mere man to a mythical larger-than-life figure; almost a force of nature with beady red eyes and a leather sombrero. He is also delightfully immoral, propositioning the married Bonnie and causing horrible, destructive mayhem for the multinational who's trying to develop the desert.

Finally, I must talk about the giant earthmover GOLIATH. Despite the fact that it is only a machine, throughout the book it is imbued with immense power with its sheer immensity and seeming unstoppableness, until it, like Hayduke, becomes a legendary force, a horrible monster that our hero Hayduke needs to slay. For something that moves at an incredibly slow pace and needs a human operator to even move at all, it makes a pretty effective villain.

All in all, this book, while not as amazing as its predecessor, is a fun and fiery read. The characters are interesting, Abbey clearly cares deeply about the threat of development incarnated in the immense GOLIATH, and the writing is witty and sharp (although as I noted above this can get a bit wearying after a while). If you liked its predecessor or love environmental literature check it out, it's worth your time.

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