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BO O K REVIEW S who were able to shed cultural conditioning and embrace, like the tribes of the West, “the notion that beauty and chaos stood side by side,” could achieve a freedom and equality otherwise unattainable in the existing social order (114). In his chapter-long snapshot of the fur trade, Ferguson illuminates this wilder­ ness egalitarianism nicely. At a time when slavery was still practiced in south­ ern states, when racism and xenophobia dominated the national consciousness, the trading camps and Native villages of the Rocky Mountains saw black trap­ pers mingling with the free-spirited sons of aristocrats; mixedblood marriages were common; contrary to the myth of the lone mountain man, communal living with shared responsibility was the norm, not the exception; and a man truly could pull himself up by his bootstraps. Because of rich yam like this, Americans have naturally come to see the Rockies as symbolic of the democratic ideal. However, we have not always been so quick to support the utterly intractable mystery and ferocity of these mountains, which are heartbreakingly beautiful, but not always kind, and never completely subservient to human demands. And this is exactly what Ferguson urges us to do—subtly, without gushing or pleading—in this beautifully spun history of our nation’s environmental attitudes. Embrace the chaos. Sick of Nature. By David Gessner. Hanover, N.H.: Dartmouth College Press, 2004- 234 pages, $24.95. Reviewed by Robert Murray Davis University of Oklahoma, Professor Emeritus Like many collections of essays, the individual pieces in Sick of Nature read better than the whole, partly because, however well ordered, each essay is not intended to contribute to a total effect; partly because, as expressions of personal viewpoints and obsessions, Gessner tends to repeat ideas and even phrases from one piece to another; partly because some of the pieces are clearly included to reach book length. Moreover, the reader, or at least the reviewer, hasn’t the necessary luxury of reading an essay, stepping away to reflect and digest, and then coming back more or less fresh to another piece. That said, David Gessner is often funny, sometimes very moving, and sometimes, perhaps less successfully, philosophical. The title essay laments excessive seriousness, generic construction, ethnic stereotyping (“There are cunently more black players in the NHL than in the Nature Writing League” [11]), authors scrambling for slices of diminishing territory, and lack of political edge in nature writing. He envisions a nature writing keg party at which “buf­ foonery is in short supply; no one tells bawdy anecdotes. In short, the party is a dud” (5). Ironically, this essay produced for him an offer to write a nature book. Elsewhere, glad to have succeeded modestly, he exclaims, “Fuck Thoreau. Let’s party!” (17). W E S T E R N A M E R IC A N LIT E R A T U R E S p r in g 2 0 0 6 Mostly, though, Gessner talks about his father’s secret to success—-WORK— and the different kinds of work, including writing, Gessner did in order to become a successful, if restive, nature writer. His musings range from Ultimate Frisbee to creative nonfiction and from the fine line between his imagination and that of his schizophrenic brother to, most successfully, his travels with his industrialist father to the family’s source in eastern Germany, where he learns to talk with his father more or less as an equal and discovers that he is proud of him for qualities which, as a son, he had resented for years. Every man who has had conflicts with his father—and who hasn’t?—will be moved by this story and wish he had even that moment of understanding and reconciliation. The longest piece, “Howling with the Trickster,” is the most ambitious, but it only partly succeeds. Tracing the movements of coyotes on Cape Cod and in Boston, Gessner struggles with whether it is possible “to live wild without living in the wilderness” (199). “Wild” is crucial to his view of himself as man and writer. The answer, anived at with a good deal of repetition and what seems unnecessary effort, is to assert...


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