Dave Foreman’s novel offers passion for vanishing wild places
By Steven Hawley
FOLLOWING Mark Twain’s adage “Write what you know about,” the world of fiction might be neatly divided into two camps. There are writers who research a subject extensively and manage to write intimate, detailed, vivid prose born of whatever spark might be ignited by hours spent in library stacks. Then there are writers whose work is purely imaginative. Such authors tend to create characters who are at least loosely autobiographical.
Whatever the finer points or drawbacks of either genre, Dave Foreman’s first crack at fiction, The Lobo Outback Funeral Home (University Press of Colorado; $24.95), falls plainly within the bounds of biographical fiction.
Foreman, a co-founder of the radical environmental group Earth First!, has attracted controversy from inside and outside environmental circles.
Over a 30-year career in the conservation movement, Foreman has been beaten by pro-logging thugs, investigated by the FBI, and reviled by fellow environmentalists for abandoning his radical roots.
The protagonist in this novel, 40-something Jack Hunter, is a lot like Foreman: a lifelong conservationist who has made the Southwest his home. Like Foreman, Hunter began his career as an environmental lobbyist in Washington, D.C., and became disillusioned with the bureaucracy there. And like Foreman, Hunter seems unable to avoid headlong collisions with controversy after departing Washington for greener pastures.
Unlike Foreman, Hunter wishes to retire from the activist life, relegating himself to a quiet existence as a farrier (a person who shoes horses) and explorer of a nearby beloved wilderness area.
Of course, things get complicated. Hunter falls in love with a fiercely intelligent and passionate wildlife biologist, Dr. MaryAnne McClellan, finds a breeding population of wolves in his wilderness area, and runs afoul of rednecks and monied interests that have an anti-environmental stranglehold on local politics.
All this leads to sex in the wilderness, brawls in bars, and duels with local hicks and bureaucrats, borrowing intelligently from a fiction formula perfected by Ed Abbey and Carl Hiaasen.
Foreman’s passion for American wilderness is transparent, an obsession that both helps and hinders this novel.
His love and intimate familiarity with Southwestern wild lands is finely woven into the scenery of the book in a visceral way that makes you want to hop onto I-15 south and drive until you find the landscape that matches the prose.
While the scenery is great, Foreman’s zeal to promote the wilderness cause presents some literary glitches. Anyone not fascinated by the procedures for designating, documenting, and protecting wilderness areas can skip substantial portions of the middle of the book, since that’s what the good guys in Lobo Outback are up to. The same goes for a long lecture from Hunter’s love interest McClellan, who often sounds like a Peterson’s field guide, providing accurate, detailed bird, plant, and animal factoids that nonetheless take some of the wind out of the sails in this plot.
But overall, Lobo Outback is an entertaining read, a contemporary Western that depicts some fantastic wild places and the increasingly divided culture charged with protecting them.
From the January 4-10, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.