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The Last American
by John Ames Mitchell
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From Publishers Weekly
"By the time Eustace Conway was seven years old he could throw a knife accurately enough to nail a chipmunk to a tree." Such behavior might qualify Eustace as a potential Columbine-style triggerman, but in Gilbert's startling and fascinating account of his life, he becomes a great American countercultural hero. At 17, Conway "headed into the mountains... and dressed in the skins of animals he had hunted and eaten." By his late 30s, Eustace owned "a thousand acres of pristine wilderness" and lived in a teepee in the woods full-time. He is, as Gilbert (Stern Men) implies with her literary and historical references, a cross between Davy Crockett and Henry David Thoreau. Gilbert, who is friends with Conway and interviewed his family, evidences enormous enthusiasm for her subject, whether discussing Conway's need for alcohol to calm down; his relationship with a physically and emotionally abusive father; or his horrific hand-to-antler fight with a deer buck he was trying to kill yet she always keeps her reporter's distance. At times, Conway's story can be wonderfully moving (as when he buries kindergartners in a shallow trench with their faces turned skyward to help them understand that the forest floor is "alive") or disconcerting (as when, in 1995, he's uncertain about Bill Clinton's identity). Gilbert has a jaunty, breathless style, and she paints a complicated portrait of American maleness that is as original as it is surprising.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Eustace Conway, who took to the woods at age 17, makes firewith sticks, lives in a teepee, and wears clothes made of animalskins. Is he an American countercultural heor or a maladjustedself-promoter who moved to the Appalachian Mountains and acquiredmassive acreage to avoid confronting his shortcomings? ElizabethGilbert, a friend of Conway, explores these--and other--questions inTHE LAST AMERICAN MAN, a fascinating examination of Conway. PatriciaKalember's reading is thoroughly in sync with the author's feminineperspective on Conway. Kalember gives life to Conway, and the legionsof people drawn to him, most of whom are eventually repelled by hispersonality. She is particularly adept at conveying the tortuousrelationship between Eustace and his antagonistic, unloving father andhis inability to deal with women, whom he perceives as mates whoshould obey his every word. D.J.S. © AudioFile 2002, Portland,Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine
*Starred Review* Eustace Conway discovered nature's wonders as a boy growing up in South Carolina during the 1960s. Miserable at home, a born perfectionist and fanatic, he took to the woods and developed wilderness skills unknown to most modern Americans. By the time he finished high school and moved into a teepee (his abode for 17 years), he was convinced that only encounters with "the high art and godliness of nature" could help save American society from its catastrophically wasteful habits and soul-deadening trivial pursuits. Conway is not alone in his beliefs, but he is unique in his maniacal drive to proselytize, and, ironically enough, he's taken his teaching mission to such extremes by attempting to create an Appalachian wilderness utopia that it's impossible for him to live the very life he champions. Tough, shrewd, gifted, vigorous, and contradictory, Conway, who set a world record crossing the continent on horseback in 103 days, both enlightens and confounds all who know him. Gilbert, a top-notch journalist and fiction writer, braids keen and provocative observations about the American frontier, the myth of the mountain man, and the peculiar state of contemporary America with its "profound alienation" from nature into her spirited and canny portrait, ultimately concluding that Conway's magnetism is due in part to his embodying society's most urgent conundrums. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
The finest examination of American masculinity and wilderness since Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild.
The finest examination of American masculinity and wilderness since Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild. (Outside magazine)
In this rousing examination of contemporary American male identity, acclaimed author and journalist Elizabeth Gilbert explores the fascinating true story of Eustace Conway. In 1977, at the age of seventeen, Conway left his family's comfortable suburban home to move to the Appalachian Mountains. For more than two decades he has lived there, making fire with sticks, wearing skins from animals he has trapped, and trying to convince Americans to give up their materialistic lifestyles and return with him back to nature. To Gilbert, Conway's mythical character challenges all our assumptions about what it is to be a modern man in America; he is a symbol of much we feel how our men should be, but rarely are.
About the Author
Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of a short story collection, Pilgrims (a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award), and a novel, Stern Men. She is currently writer-at-large for GQ. Her journalism has been published in Harper's Bazaar, Spin, and the New York Times Magazine, and her fiction has appeared in Esquire and the Paris Review.
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