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Black Sun (1971)

by Edward Abbey

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258375,390 (3.79)7
Edward Abbey's first love was to write fiction, and as so many of his friends pointed out, Black Sun was his own personal favorite book. It contains some of his most lyrical writing, and it is unusually gentle and introspective for him.
  1. 00
    The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles (sturlington)
    sturlington: These two novels reminded me of each other, beyond just the desert setting.
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Will Gatlin has withdrawn from the world and become a firespotter in an isolated camp on the Grand Canyon when he meets a much younger woman, has an affair with her, and--sigh!--begins to live again.

Before I get into the story, I will say that Abbey's descriptions of the natural world in this short book are wonderful. He never names the setting, but I was able to recognize the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, a fascinating and beautiful place, based solely on his descriptions. Still, this is a cringe-worthy and dated story about an older man--an older, hairy, and unshowered man, to boot--initiating a much younger woman into the ways of physical love. I mean, bleargh. The poor girl is so naive that not only is she a virgin, she doesn't even know the names for things. Gatlin has to teach her everything, and she proves to be a willing student, ready to try almost anything anywhere. Also, pages are spent on her physical attributes--her breasts, in particular--and her cute way of dressing, not at all appropriate for camping in the wilderness but conveniently perfect for getting an old man's goat up. If all that weren't enough, Gatlin's friend--who has no reason for being in the book, as far as I can tell--periodically writes him long, sexist letters about his affairs, his wives constantly leaving him (for obvious reasons), and his perverse fantasies regarding college girls and free love. I'm thankful to be several decades removed from this time. Also, if this book weren't so short and the natural descriptions weren't so lovely, I doubt I would have finished it.

Toward the end, the girl seems to get a bit fed up with Gatlin's relationship style and goes off for a few days to think things over. She never returns. Of course, this is such a tragedy for Gatlin, who was just starting to rejoin the world, and now this happens to him. He assumes that the girl has hiked down into the canyon and met with an accident. I like to think that she decided she could do much better, drove to San Francisco, opened a vegetarian restaurant, and settled into a fulfilling lesbian relationship. Hmm, maybe I should write the sequel.

I originally bought this book based solely on the gorgeous cover in this reissued edition. This was the first book by Abbey I have read, and I suspect it will be the last. ( )
3 vote sturlington | Jan 9, 2016 |
Friends of Abbey have said that this was his favorite book. I can see why he may have felt that way, although I think I'm still partial to The Fool's Progress. This novel feels very personal, and it craftily eludes easy categorization. On the surface one could say it's a love story, although one that only Abbey could write. The book is compact and the plot economical, and yet Abbey's spare writing here is still so rich with meaning. Like so much of his work (if not all of it), place takes on the role of a major character. It may even loom in importance above others of the few characters found walking through these pages. And for Abbey fans, that has come to be expected. ( )
  S.D. | Apr 5, 2014 |
did not finish
  ahrens28 | Dec 27, 2008 |
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Epigraph
There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not:

The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid. --Proverbs
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For Judy, 1943-1970--wherever
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Each day begins like any other.
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Originally published: as 'Black sun', New York : Simon and Schuster, 1971 ; and as 'Sunset canyon', London : Talmy, 1972.
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Edward Abbey's first love was to write fiction, and as so many of his friends pointed out, Black Sun was his own personal favorite book. It contains some of his most lyrical writing, and it is unusually gentle and introspective for him.

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