Saturday, September 3, 2011

Finding Everett Ruess by David Roberts

Why I read it: Unending fascination with the open spaces of the American West.

Summary: Bull-headed teen Everett Ruess heads into the southwestern desert with dreams of spending a life wandering and creating works of art based on the landscapes he finds. Ultimately, he disappears, and a cult builds around his story. Roberts brings us from his first foray to his last, then from the first search party to the modern day.

My Thoughts: I don't like Everett Ruess.

It might be sacrilege to say it, but I think this book has given me too much to think about. Had I discovered Everett Ruess the way that millions of others have, through small excerpts from his letters and diaries, philosophical words that examine the beauty of the American southwest and man's place in it, I would have found him benign, perhaps even a bit of a kindred soul. But the tale that Roberts tells was not meant to be a sugar coating, it was designed to exhibit every possible clue as to his final whereabouts.

Toward that end, we get more of his words than are typically printed. We learn of his relationships with friends, the way he treats his parents and brother, the night he beat his dog until it ran into the desert for good, what he thought of the people of the southwest. He was young. He was pig-headed. He treated people poorly when he felt like it - at least in his written words. He was an unfortunate victim of the fieriness of youth.

Still, the journeys are fascinating, both alongside Ruess and the people who have searched for him. Roberts made an attempt to find him, and even thought he had, but Ruess slipped away once again, and today remains one of the American southwest's most elusive figures.

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