Twenty-five years after its initial publication, some 700,000 paperback copies of "The Monkey Wrench Gang" have been sold, even though Abbey made The New Yorker and Paris Review crowds uncomfortable. He called the revered Tom Wolfe a "faggoty fascist fop" and the sainted John Updike a boring armchair purveyor of "suburban soap operas," yet his die-hard fans included such well-known writers as Joan Didion, Wendell Berry, Thomas Pynchon, Cormac McCarthy, Dillard, Hunter S. Thompson, McMurtry and Thomas McGuane. The late Wallace Stegner, in fact, proclaimed that Abbey presented the "stinger of a scorpion" and was the "most effective publicist of the West's curious desire to rape itself since Bernard DeVoto."
The American Southwest has produced other fine writers--Mary Austin, Oliver LaFarge and Barbara Kingsolver come to mind--but none has piqued readers' imaginations to the same extent as Edward Abbey. And in his 20th and last book--"Hayduke Lives!," a posthumous sequel to "The Monkey Wrench Gang"--Abbey has the last word: "Anyone who takes this book seriously will be shot. Anyone who does not take it seriously will be buried alive by a Mitsubishi bulldozer."
In "Epitaph for a Desert Anarchist: The Life and Legacy of Edward Abbey," journalist James Bishop Jr. recounts a letter that William Butler Yeats wrote to Oscar Wilde stating that he "envied those men who become mythological while still living." "The Monkey Wrench Gang" transformed Abbey from exquisite chronicler of Utah's Canyonlands to full-fledged folk figure, the literary equivalent of a "green" Jesse James. Even in death, mystery surrounded Abbey, and in radical environmental circles, many believe he is still alive. Scrawled on bathroom walls and campground bulletin boards throughout the West, the phrase "Abbey Lives!" abounds.