Wright reflects on the West

Book Review: Why I'm Against it All: Rants and Reflections by Ken Wright; Raven's Eye Press, 178 pages

Perhaps the most challenging task to hand a book reviewer is to have her read a book about her native West, written by a transplanted Easterner. The stakes are high when a guy from New England plops himself down in the rugged Western terrain and begins ranting about its wildness, the need to preserve it and laments about what’s been lost in the last two or three decades. His stories, to me, are familiar.

But that challenge isn’t so difficult, because in his latest collection of essays, Why I’m Against it All: Rants and Reflections, Durango author Ken Wright offers plenty of wry yet unique perspectives about his love for the West. Indeed, Wright often appears more passionate about saving the West than even most native Westerners. In his essays, he shows readers just how serious his love affair is with this side of the country. Doing so, he is dramatic, sappy, funny and sad.

These essays – some of which readers will have already been treated to in other publications – showcase Wright’s talent for weaving a good tale with inventive sentences and lucid details. He writes about a range of subjects, from his early days in the West as a ski bum to the difficulties of fatherhood and responsibility, intertwining it all with nature.

The fact that Wright hails from the Northeast is an important element in his essays. It shows how the grandeur of the West’s vast landscape takes hold of outsiders, trapping them in its maw forever – even if they don’t make this place their permanent home. For those of us who grew up in this territory, it reminds us of how awesome it is. It whips us out of our take-it-for-granted attitudes and restores in us a sense of appreciation.

For that, readers from the West can thank Wright. Readers from elsewhere can thank him for introducing them to a landscape that, as Wright so often discusses, is vanishing at breakneck speed. This is the underlying message of all of Wright’s musings, even if he sometimes doesn’t make it so obvious.

His essays tend to be more about his experiences, with sometimes only a tinge of politics or philosophy thrown in at the end, as if to say that the essay has to serve some purpose. This weakens Wright’s ability to throw salt in the proverbial wounds of growth and development. It’s a surprising twist, since many familiar with Wright know that his hero is the former loud-mouth, irreverent desert environmentalist Edward Abbey. In those places where he does let loose his political rants, Wright sometimes comes across as a bit hypocritical. In one essay he tells readers to enjoy life – to “go with it” but not to whine. Yet in the same breath he’s whining himself about taxpayer-funded road improvements that will allow more people – like him – to visit the West, perhaps even stay here – like him.

Ultimately, this makes Wright’s essays sometimes uneven in their scope. But don’t hold this against him. Like everyone else clamoring to save the vestiges of the Old West, Wright finds himself conflicted in a world where evolution is paramount to survival. So, really, Wright isn’t against it all. He’s just against those ill-conceived ideas and poor decisions that threaten what he’s for.

There are numerous examples in this book of what Wright is for. Though he’s sometimes trite in his exaltations of what the West should really be about, and he sometimes tries too hard to separate himself from all the rest of the newcomers, Wright’s stories about and perspective on the macrocosm are worthwhile. Readers will find them enjoyable, whether it’s because they’ve shared the same experiences or whether they learn something new. But readers better hurry and soak them up. It sure seems like Wright isn’t long for this civilized world. His next collection of essays may be scrawled on dead wood in the isolated backcountry Wright will call home.








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