Monday, October 24, 2011

Book Review: "Finding Everett Ruess"

Since reading Jon Krakauer's chapter on him in Into the Wild I've been intrigued by Everett Ruess, a young hiker who disappeared in the wilds of southeastern Utah in the fall/winter of 1934. Now David Roberts has given us a full-scale account of Ruess' life and legend in Finding Everett Ruess (Broadway, 2011). This book may be 380 pages long, but I read it over the course of a single afternoon, almost in one continuous sitting.

Like Krakauer's Christopher McCandless, whose story bears a whole series of uncanny resemblances with Ruess', this was a young man in search of something he never quite managed to find; Ruess was a smart, talented person with a gift for writing and art (his block prints are used at the heads of each chapter, and Roberts quotes a length from his letters, diaries, essays and poems).

What's different about Ruess' story is that his disappearance has remained unsolved. Was he murdered by local cattle rustlers? Did he fall to his death while hiking? Or did he simply head off into parts unknown, never to be heard from again? Roberts explores Ruess' four long hikes through the Southwest, but concentrates on the final journey and on its aftermath: the decades-long search for Ruess, his family's quest to come to grips with what happened, and on the discovery of a gravesite high in the mountains believed for a time to be Ruess' final resting place (subsequent DNA analysis later ruled out the possibility).

Roberts has been interested in Ruess' story for a long time, and the depth of this interest and his research into the young man is clear. It's a fascinating, unnerving, and deeply thought-provoking work. I recommend it.

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