Over at Ars Gratia Libertatis, reviewer J.P. Medved (writing as “Aducknamedjoe”) focuses on the outdoor aspect of High Desert Barbecue (a not insignificant aspect of the novel, which takes place almost entirely under the open sky):
There is no shortage of novels devoted to the outdoors whose stories appeal to backpackers, campers and hikers (the granola sort, we call them in Colorado). It takes only a minute’s thought to conjure up such titles as Into the Wild, Hatchet, or Hemingway’s famous short story, Big Two-Hearted River. Many of these seriously and studiously explore nature as a vast healing power, a thunderous force not to be trifled with, or a dangerous coming of age challenge.
Rare are those stories that depict nature with a lighthearted chuckle, to be respected, sure, but also to be enjoyed by people who know what they’re doing in the Great Outdoors. Rarer still is such a story written from a free market, libertarian perspective. Luckily, author J.D. Tuccille has taken it upon himself to rectify that deficit with his new novel, High Desert Barbecue.
I’m glad this review notes this point. As a trail runner, mountain biker, backpacker. etc., I spend muchas horas (this is Arizona, folks) under the sun, and I enjoy fiction about the great outdoors. But I’m more than a little put-off by quasi-theological, neo-primitivist tripe that treats the wilderness as a morally redemptive alternative to horrible, horrible civilization and its nasty antibiotics, arts, knowledge and reduced infant mortality. *shudder*
Look, I like the outdoors. The wilderness is fun, beautiful, challenging — and it can kill you. I’ve drunk bad water when I was two days from a trailhead — an uphill climb from the bottom of Grand Canyon, at that. I’ve stumbled over rattle snakes. I’ve been chilled to the bone far from fire or shelter. I’ve been bit by things I still can’t identify, that made parts of my anatomy swell up and turn fascinating colors.
But I like being outside. I also, especially, appreciate the refuge the wilderness offers from the strictures of everyday life. It’s a place to run to escape expectations, condemnations and, especially intrusive laws and red tape. Edward Abbey spilled a lot of ink on this last point — the wilderness as a place to flee from tyranny — which probably helps to explain his mixed reputation in progressive circles, but he also indulged in nature-worship and civilization-bashing to an absurdly misanthropic degree.
Truthfully, if the wilderness is a refuge from civilization, so is civilization a refuge from wilderness. We need a place to escape from busybodies, bigots and control-freaks, but we also need a place to develop art, medicine and technology in order to explore and use our human potential.