Into The Wild

Learn how to skin a squirrel in this biography of a modern-day woodsman.

THE LAST AMERICAN MAN by Elizabeth Gilbert (Viking Press, $24.95) Zeitgeist Art & Coffee, 171 S. Jackson, 624-6600 7 p.m. Tues., May 28

YOU CAN SEE why this book is expanded from Elizabeth Gilbert’s 1998 article in GQ. That magazine’s sissy, style-obsessed readers are badly in need of a good lesson in masculinity. No more scruffing lotions, guys! The subject of this book, Eustace Conway, has some wood that needs chopping—then ditches to dig, fields to plow, and horses to shoe. Afterward, you can gather with Eustace in the communal tepee of his Turtle Island, N.C., nature preserve to enjoy some nice roadkill stew.

Are you man enough for that? We don’t think so. Neither does Conway, whose near contempt for modern man is only slightly softened by his evangelistic zeal to return us all to nature and 19th-century frontiersman skills. Yet after 25 years of crusading for his cause, the strain is beginning to show. In this short, readable 271-page volume, he emerges as a not-quite-tragic figure—perhaps the last of his quixotic kind.

But what kind is he? Dressed in buckskin sewn from the deer he slays, decrying civilization at every turn, is he a prophet, crank, or Ted Kaczynski? Dropping any pretense of distance or objectivity between herself and “Davy Fuckin’ Crockett” (whom she clearly admires), Gilbert explains how he’s “not merely a hermit or a hippie or even a survivalist.”

What he is, finally, is a guy from a messed-up family trying to escape—yet in essence becoming—his unforgiving, perfectionist father. And his tragedy, if there is one, is that there no longer exists a frontier into which he can simply escape and reinvent himself.

Brian Miller