Tuesday, June 17
What a subject Elizabeth Gilbert discovered for her book The Last American Man. Eustace Conway was treated awfully by a vindictive father who never supported him, and he responded by becoming an adult who refused to be satisfied with any of his own efforts, no matter how astounding. The younger Conway has hiked the length of the Appalachian Trail, eating only food he foraged from the woods along the way. He rode a horse the width of America in record time and started a wilderness school in Appalachia. Even as a kid, Conway was different -- breeding turtles, performing in a Native American dance troupe, getting lost in the woods for weeks. As he grew, he continued to commune with nature, but, driven by demons, he adopted a furious life pace. He was convinced that he needed to work faster and faster to spread the gospel of sustainable living, so he embarked on a never-ending round of speaking engagements. Like John Muir on speed, Conway left behind lovers, family and just about everyone else in his life in a frantic effort to do nothing less than convince as many folks as possible that reconnecting with nature was their only hope for salvation. The best thing about this chronicle, though, is the writing. Gilbert, author of the short-story collection Pilgrims, has the mad fiction skills of a Rick Bass. Turning her talents to nonfiction, she tells a tale that's hard to put down. Hear her read from Last American Man at 7 p.m. at Left Bank Books, 399 North Euclid Avenue (free, 314-367-6731).