Thursday, March 29, 2007

Good news from Edward Abbey

This is Day 19 of our “purge,” all in preparation for tearing out the doggie-stained carpets and installing new flooring and built-in bookcases and cabinets in the next few months. Each day is filled with pleasant discoveries. One of today’s, found on a back shelf, is Edward Abbey’s Good News. Halleluiah! I had recently thought about revisiting Good News, and here it is!

Good News is widely considered one of Abbey’s lesser novels. It’s only natural, then, that of all his books, fiction and nonfiction, it’s my favorite. The “good news” for Abbey, when he wrote the novel in the late 1970s, was that the military-industrial state was bound to collapse eventually from its own weight. Good News is about what happens after that breakdown, when a paramilitary despot tries to restore “order” among the ruins of the Southwest and meets resistance from desert freedom-fighters. It’s about, as Abbey calls it, “the oldest civil war of all” — the city vs. the country. It’s tanks and grenades vs. horses and rifles. It’s the remnant of the power elite vs. the mind-your-own-business agrarians. It’s Them vs. Us. Good News is part sci-fi Western and part anarchist polemic. It’s largely forgotten but, thankfully, always in print. I can’t wait to dig into it again.

Here’s something Edward Abbey wrote in 1978, while he was working on Good News:

“We all know who the Enemy is. The Enemy speaks to us all the time — from the radio, on the television, on billboards, in the newspapers and slick magazines, in the halls of Congress, at the state capitol, in city hall.

“And the Enemy says, ‘Behold, how sleek and fat I have become. Am I not the wonder of the world? Am I not the richest and most powerful beast on earth? Would you turn against the thing which has enriched you, which has given you safety and security and comfort, which promises you still more wonders in the future — electronic toys, computerized thinking, a life air-conditioned from womb to grave, an existence of endless novelty, luxury, diversion, things and more things, a universe of sport and adventure and romance and travel in the softness of your armchair, the ease of your V-8 four-wheel-drive wheelchair tourism, the sedation of your living room? A painless, discreet, sedated death? And all this for so little, so very little — merely for the price of some of your independence, a bit of your freedom, a little part of your manhood or womanhood, for only a little sacrifice of your humanity and honor. ...’ ”

If you haven’t yet experienced Ed Abbey, Good News is a fine place to start.


At 7:56 PM, Blogger Michael A. Lewis said...

I've always considered Good News one of Abbey's light novels, even though I enjoy it at every reading. Although he overtly depicted his ideas about anarchism and the ultimate failure of industrial capitalism, he never fully fleshed them out. In a way, The Brave Cowboy and Fire one the Mountain are more essentially libertarian than Good News.

Black Sun was Abbey's favorite, and mine, too, until I read Fool's Progress, the most honest and intimate of his writings. I found more there of the man I knew than in his earlier works.


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