Saturday, August 4, 2018

On "La Vie en Rose" by Lucia Berlin (12 minutes) ***

"La Vie en Rose" revolves around two girls on a visit in Europe who are swept up by two young dashing soldiers and are summarily dealt with by their strict father. It's a story about youth--youthful daring and folly--more than about anything sinister or hateful, rebellious or oppressive. Listen to the story here at Soundcloud.

On "The Monkey Wrench Gang" by Edward Abbey ****

Here's another novel it's taken me over two decades to get around to reading. Back when I was in my early twenties and working in a bookstore, one particular coworker of mine was a huge fan. He was taking a break from college up in Utah, and his desire was to be an environmentalist attorney. And he was not, one would say, too averse to sundry tactics to prevent the development of the West. He was a huge fan of this book as well as Marc Reisner's book on dams.

And so finally, I've read Abbey's classic, and I can see the appeal to young idealistic Alex. Oh, to be young again.

As I read the book now, the four central characters, conspirers to prevent the destruction of the West through nearly any means necessary (save killing people), come across as essentially terrorists. They do not, for most of the book, seem like heros very much. And they are hypocrites, littering their way across the same landscape they profess to be saving by destroying bridges and wreaking havoc on new construction. For most of the book, I did not have much sympathy for them.

But credit Abbey with somehow making the characters get into you enough that by the end you are cheering for them, hoping they get away with all their bad deeds, even if you don't agree with them. You come to like them in some odd and twisted way. Perhaps, that's because most of the squares come across as unsympathetic foes. (I also credit Abbey with making much of the writing itself absolutely beautiful.)

Still, I do end up wondering where Abbey's real feelings lie. In creating characters who are not entirely good and in naming one of the "squares" after himself, one gets the feeling that while Abbey might sympathize with the views of his four main characters, he does not entirely approve of their means. The character named after himself is a ranger who comes across them and lets them go--the first time--and then who catches one of them the second. Maybe there's hope in a more conservative approach to conservation.