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Acid West

9780374535803 fc
Paperback, FSG Originals, 2018
Acid thought 2 preview

Joshua Wheeler

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A rollicking debut book of essays that takes readers on a trip through the muck of American myths that have settled in the desert of our country’s underbelly

Early on July 16, 1945, Joshua Wheeler’s great grandfather awoke to a flash, and then a long rumble: the world’s first atomic blast filled the horizon north of his ranch in Alamogordo, New Mexico. Out on the range, the cattle had been bleached white by the fallout.

Acid West, Wheeler’s stunning debut collection of essays, is full of these mutated cows: vestiges of the Old West that have been transformed, suddenly and irrevocably, by innovation. Traversing the New Mexico landscape his family has called home for seven generations, Wheeler excavates and reexamines these oddities, assembling a cabinet of narrative curiosities: a man who steps from the stratosphere and free-falls to the desert; a treasure hunt for buried Atari video games; a village plagued by the legacy of atomic testing; a showdown between Billy the Kid and the author of Ben-Hur; a UFO festival during the paranoid Summer of Snowden.

The radical evolution of American identity, from cowboys to drone warriors to space explorers, is a story rooted in southern New Mexico. Acid West illuminates this history, clawing at the bounds of genre to reveal a place that is, for better or worse, home. By turns intimate, absurd, and frightening, Acid West is an enlightening deep-dive into a prophetic desert at the bottom of America.

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  • “Imagine that one night at a bar there’s an exuberantly long sentence by the novelist David Foster Wallace, and at the other end of the bar there’s a fantastically implausible story by Herodotus, and on the jukebox is an essay by Rachel Carson, performed by Queen, remixed by Baz Lurhmann. The lights go out, the floor tilts, and nine months later there’s Joshua Wheeler, a writer with a marauding curiosity whose spectacular debut collection raids American history, cosmology, family lore, Hollywood, aeronautics, video games, and even the landscape itself in order to fashion for his beloved Southern New Mexico a vision of the world that could not exist without it. And in the thrall of Wheeler’s beautiful, bawdy, and roguishly charming essays, you’re going to believe it."

    John D’Agata, author of About a Mountain