Kenny's Reviews > Everett Ruess: A Vagabond for Beauty

Everett Ruess by W.L. Rusho
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Dec 02, 2008

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bookshelves: biography

** spoiler alert ** Everett Reuss was more than an environmentally-conscious forerunner; he was also an early 20th century precursor of what has become an epidemic of narcissism in our culture, though I doubt he thought of himself as such. Yet, due in large part to his tender age and his overly accomodating parents, he fairly typifies the narcisstic personality type: selfish and sensitive only to his own feelings, thoughts and desires. Due to his young age and astonishing naivete, he reveals his selfishness on every page of this interesting and readable book.
At one moment he is excoriating all those who labor for a living, and literally in the next paragraph is begging for his family to send him money and supplies. Who did he think underwrote his vagrance? And yet the saving grace of this book is his adequate and sometimes nice descriptions of the country through which he passed.
He often describes himself as "sensitive," but that is, again, the man-child talking: he might very well weep at a glorious sunset over Monument Valley; I doubt very much if he wept at the cost of his adventures, all borne by others, in both money, fears for his safety, and having to listen to his juvenile, petulant rants about society.
On the question as to what happened to him that November in 1934, several theories are advanced, but I tend to take the Occam's Razor approach: the simplest, most logical explanation is probably true. Since the original search party from nearby Escalante was made up of men who spent their entire lives in the region, it is unlikely that he fell off a cliff or died of snake bite, as they would have most certainly found the body. More likely, I believe, is the notion that he got across the Colorado, and perhaps died of an accident somewhere in the endless wastes surrounding Glen Canyon. At close second is the theory that he was killed by cattle rustlers, his body buried and his kit removed, leaving only the two burros behind in Davis Canyon. This also seems quite possible.
Above all, like the McCandless boy in Krakauer's "Into The Wild," interest in Ruess survives all these years later simply because he DID die. His art was ordinary, but his hubris was extraordinary. Had he lived, I've no doubt that no one would have heard of him, since he seemed so adverse to being educated by others, either in art or life.
This book is subtitled "a vagabond for beauty." I would have subtitled it "a narcissist finds only himself, wher'er he may go."

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