September 13, 2007

The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert

Originally published in 2002, the Last American Man is the true story of Eustace Conway who, at seven years old he could throw a knife accurately enough to nail a chipmunk to a tree.

Such behavior might qualify Eustace as a potential Columbine-style triggerman, but in Elizabeth Gilbert's startling and fascinating account of his life, he becomes a great American countercultural hero.

At 17, Conway "headed into the mountains... and dressed in the skins of animals he had hunted and eaten." By his late 30s, Eustace owned "a thousand acres of pristine wilderness" and lived in a teepee in the woods full-time.

He is, as Elizabeth Gilbert implies with her literary and historical references, a cross between Davy Crockett and Henry David Thoreau.

Elizabeth has enormous enthusiasm for her subject, whether discussing Conway's need for alcohol to calm down; his relationship with a physically and emotionally abusive father; or his horrific hand-to-antler fight with a deer buck he was trying to kill, yet she always keeps her reporter's distance.

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