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Reviews 157 Black Sun. By Edward Abbey. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1971. 159 pages. $5.95.) The country in Black Sun is the same as in Desert Solitaire: the shift­ ing zone where wilderness and “syphilization” verge, Abbey ciuntry, rich in sudden ironic openings of consciousness and self-knowledge. If Desert Solitaire inquired into the meaning of wildness, which is to say, the meaning of natural life in a world being made unnatural, Black Sun inquires about the chances for love in that same place. The context is the sundown century: jets over­ head, zoo-like obsessions with sex, manic pseudo-philosophy all around. Be­ yond the cool and lonely survival value of irony, established in the solitude of the desert, is there such a thing as love, any more? Abbey’s tentative answer looks very lean at first. The book is short, the characters few, the structure chopped and seemingly evasive of long, deep development. A fire lookout who is quietly on the run from a bad marriage as well as from what e.e. cummings called “seive lies ation,” comes (sur­ prisingly, to himself) genuinely to love a young, intelligent, unsophisticated, and beautiful girl who arrives, on her own, at his retreat. Will Gatlin, the lookout, is touched with Jeffersian melancholy, though without the Olympian strain. Man and girl share an idyll, but not an unshadowed one, given the terrify­ ing elements in Abbey country. These are conveyed almost offhandedly, in brief flashes: drunken Indians saying ominously true things, a professor friend saying untrue things, equally ominous. However, the chief shadow lies in the mind of Will Gatlin, who knows too much, recongnizes the bravado in his insight, and goes on to see behind the bravado the original truth: the world really isn’t much any more. Not when you can fly in an hour what it takes two months to walk; not when sex is only a cheap variety of the big madness; not when “The very skin of the earth crawls and itches with them [humans] The New Yorker, in a negative review, called Black Sun “sentimental,” apparently referring to the seemingly woodsy and joyous love affair. I think the reviewer didn’t catch the ironic vision behind the sentiment. There is more than one voice in Edward Abbey; the multiple consciousness living with today’s death of things yet open to the forward territory, knowing the im­ portant foolishness of dreaming the old good dreams here on the downhill side, is the source of both Abbey's highly regarded humor and his deeper power. After the summer idyll, Gatlin is beaten up by the girl’s fiance (an Air Force cadet with a remarkably dead vocabulary) ; the girl leaves mysteriously, and Gatlin descends into the oven-like wilderness of the Canyon to look for her. At the close, he is alone again. This is significant. This is the locus of the book; the other characters come and go and are really rather slightly drawn, and Gatlin never says many words to them (though much to u s). And it is not what happens or 158 Western American Literature how the novel ends, but the author’s mind looking back, arranging, adding dimensions missed, seeing, that compels interest. Black Sun is, I think, much more profound than it looks. T h o m a s J. L y o n , Utah State University Arfive. By A. B. Guthrie, Jr. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1970. 278 pages, $5.95.) Admirers of Boone and Jim, looking for them again as mature men or for their heirs, will be disappointed in Arfive, the 70-year-old Guthrie’s fourth major novel, the first since These Thousand Hills in 1956. Arfive, as a small eastern-slope Montana community, is the outgrowth of Mort Ewing’s R5 brand which was developed and stabilized on his gamble with “a gravel bed” and irrigation water to produce wild hay. The book, short by Guthrie stand­ ards, is in three parts, covering roughly the twenty years before President Wil­ son’s second term. Benton Collingsworth, the Indiana school teacher of high intellect, strong passion, and Victorian principles, at home in what he thinks...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 157-158
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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