The Last American Man, by Elizabeth Gilbert   no comments

Posted at 9:20 am in Book review

Before Eat, Pray, Love happened, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote mostly about men: cowboys in the short story collection Pilgrims, lobster fishermen in her novel Stern Men, and, most memorably, Eustace Conway in The Last American Man.

Twenty years ago, Conway went back to the land in the most extreme way possible, and he’s still there, foraging and hunting, rubbing sticks together to make fire, sewing his own clothes from the animal skins he tans.  He is convinced that once people bear witness to his life, they too will want to give up electricity and indoor plumbing, and the United States will revert to an agrarian society, its citizens cheerfully living in harmony with nature. To this end, he travels the country promoting his nature preserve (and once befriending a terrifying set of crack dealers who liked his buckskin coat). Gilbert paints him as alternately charismatic and deluded, inspired and infuriating.

Conway’s story is interspersed with a history of utopian ideas in the U.S., of the dreamers—zany, often misguided, but always engaging—who envisioned a new way to live and a brighter future on the American frontier. There’s also an intriguing meditation on masculinity, on American definitions of manhood from the pioneer era to the modern age. The Last American Man is fascinating and a lot of fun—and just possibly better than Eat, Pray, Love.

Written by Lorin on September 30th, 2010

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