Red Caddy – Into the Unknown with Edward Abbey by Charles Bowden
I came across Red Caddy: Into the Unknown with Edward Abbey completely by accident. Previously, I was ignorant of Charles Bowden and his writing. I had first heard of Edward Abbey when assigned Monkey Wrench Gang for an environmental history class at Northern Illinois University. It was a great class, despite being hippy-dippy left.
After being exposed to Abbey’s writing, it took me many years later to dive into his other works, my favorite being Desert Solitaire. Not being part of the Abbey cult, I have only read the novel The Fool’s Progress and the non-fiction book, The Journey Home. Both were enjoyable reads.
When I saw that Red Caddy was billed as the “first literary biography of Edward Abbey in a generation” I thought I’d give it a go. The 120 page book was published over 3 years after the death of Charles Bowden and nearly 30 years after Abbey’s death. Despite being a rather short bio/memoir, this book is interesting and insightful. It isn’t so much a discovery of who Ed was, but who he wasn’t.
A traditional biography would follow the birth and growth of its subject. It would provide opinions and assumptions of what the person thought and believed in. Instead, this book focuses more on the death and mystique of the cult following that proceeded after Abbey’s life.
Bowden intermixes small vignettes of his encounters with Abbey (his friend), along with imagined sightings of Ed speeding along in his red Cadillac. All of this is intertwined with the author moderating a posthumous symposium on the life of Abbey, an event he desperately wanted to avoid.
The dry humor and philosophical musings of Bowden is well received. He is a wonderful writer and one I want to explore further. Red Caddy: Into the Unknown with Edward Abbey does a great job of respecting Abbey without putting him up on a pedestal. Bowden walks a nice tightrope here, showing that Abbey was a complicated person, not a guru or desert god, but a human. A human still worthy of being read.