Broadway, $15.00, 394 pages
Like the mountain men who hunted beaver across the West in the early 1800’s, the young artist, Everett Ruess, wandered in the early 1930’s around the Southwest with only a burro or two, some blankets and his painting supplies. Sixteen when he set out, returning only a few times to his parents in LA, Ruess spent years sleeping in empty Navajo hogans or under the stars, living off rattlesnakes and trout, exploring ancient Anastazi cliff dwellings, participating in sacred Navajo rituals as few Anglos have done, and using his keen eye for nature to render the landscape in wood-block or paint. Ruess was barely twenty-one when he disappeared, and no trace of him was ever found. Was he murdered? Did he commit suicide? Did he succumb to hazards of the desert, freezing to death, drowning in the Colorado River, falling from a cliff? Using extant letters, diaries, and photographs, Roberts explores Ruess’s fate and his legends. Though he occasionally judges Ruess by adult standards and glosses over certain features of Ruess’s story, Roberts compels our interest in this irresistible tale of a young man gone astray in a time shrouded by the gloom of the Great Depression.
Reviewed by Zara Raab