Desert Cabal, is a fiercely tender and provocative response to Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire—his classic and now canonical account of the desert West—on the fiftieth anniversary of its publication. Desert Cabal is about Irvine’s own life in the West—raising a family, falling in love with the land and working to protect it—and it explores the myths of Western masculinity, the sublimity of endangered territory, and the kinds of intimacy enabled by spaciousness and proximity.
- interview with LESLIE JAMISON,
The Paris Review Daily
"No matter your feelings about Edward Abbey or your relationship with Desert Solitaire, Irvine’s Desert Cabal adds necessary depth to the dialogue. Many of us have been waiting years for that."
- MAGGIE GRIMASON,
The Albuquerque Alibi
“Desert Cabal is a grief-stricken, heart-hopeful, soul song to the American Desert, a wail, a keening, a rant, a scolding, a tumult, a prayer, an aria, and a call to action.
author of Contents May Have Shifted
Ed Abbey’s Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness turns 50 this fall, and its iconic author, who has inspired generations of rebel-rousing advocacy on behalf of the American West, is due for a tribute as well as a talking to. In Desert Cabal: A New Season in the Wilderness, Amy Irvine admires the man who influenced her life and work while challenging all that is dated—offensive, even— between the covers of Abbey’s environmental classic.
Irvine names and questions the “lone male” narrative— white and privileged as it is— that still has its boots planted firmly at the center of today’s wilderness movement, even as she celebrates the lens through which Abbey taught so many to love the wild remains of the nation.
From Abbey’s quiet notion of solitude to Irvine’s roaring cabal, the desert just got hotter, and its defenders more nuanced and numerous.
"Irvine gradually builds to a ringing conclusion, stating simply and clearly that wilderness lovers 'need intimacy with people every bit as much as with place' and that 'going it alone is a failure of contribution and compassion."
"Amy Irvine reframes the [environmental] movement’s character as she carries out an interior dialogue with Abbey’s work ... every essay is short and the epiphanies are fierce and clear."
Praise for Desert Cabal:
“Ed Abbey’s rise to sainthood has been a bit awkward: here is an earth hero who guzzles gas in search of his personal Eden, a champion of the underdog who snubs Mexicans and Natives, an anarchist rabble-rouser who utters not a peep about his perch atop the patriarchy. Finally someone—and it could be no better iconoclast than Amy Irvine—wrassles him off the pedestal back down to the red dirt where he belongs. Half riot and half celebration, this is a roadmap through a crisis that neither Abbey nor any of us imagined.”
— MARK SUNDEEN, author of The Man Who Quit Money and The Unsettlers
“If you’ve ever talked back to the canonical tomes of the environmental movement, this is a book for you. Here are the women, the people, the children, and the intimate dangers those old books so frequently erased. Here is a new and necessary ethic that might help us more openly love the land and the many living beings who share it. I found myself nodding—Yes! Yes! Thank you!—on nearly every page of Desert Cabal.”
—CAMILLE T. DUNGY, author of Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood and History and editor of Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry
“Amy Irvine is Ed Abbey’s underworld, her roots reaching into the dark, hidden water. In a powerful, dreamlike series of essays, she lays Desert Solitaire bare, looking back at the man who wrote the book and the desert left behind. This stream of consciousness, this conversation, this broadside, is an alternate version of Abbey’s country. It is another voice in the wilderness.”
—CRAIG CHILDS, author of Atlas of a Lost World
“If there wasn’t a woman in Ed Abbey’s trailer in Arches back in the 1950’s, there is one now. And she has a room and a voice of her own.”
—KEN SANDERS, Ken Sanders Rare Books