Excerpt from Shadowlands by Anthony McCann, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Fear and Freedom at the Oregon Standoff

by Anthony McCann

Shadowlands by Anthony McCann X
Shadowlands by Anthony McCann
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  • Published:
    Jul 2019, 448 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

Desert Training

Before 2016, I had no desire to write a prose book about America. I didn't particularly believe in it. I had no interest in its providential vanity, its outsize faith in its singular mission. Back then, what I wanted was to write a book about the desert. But the desert changed all that.

It wasn't really the desert that did it. Not alone, anyway. Really, it began with the Marines, as the world I thought I was looking at changed right in front of my eyes. I was sitting on a big lump of basalt, on a rise in the open desert north of my new home. I'd just begun moving my life to the Mojave. I was doing so eagerly; I was finished with Los Angeles, with the daily folly, the constant roar of traffic, the helicopters of the police and the superrich thrumming overhead, while our alienated social life overheated on the plat- forms of the internet. Besides, I could hardly afford it there anymore anyway; fewer and fewer could.

That day in the Mojave, sitting on my rock, I was gazing at a mountain to the north, a big, striated slab of desert range, red and dark. Beyond it was more mountain, range after range, folded and craggly, turning bluer and bluer, under the wild blue sky. I knew that the mountain I was gazing at, Hidalgo, was on the desert training center of the U.S. Marines—I knew I couldn't just walk there even though there were no fences between me and it, no physical boundaries. I knew if I tried, I'd end up detained, but the mountain didn't know anything about that, and I liked that about mountains.

I liked that about the desert too. It's a portal to a different world, one characterized by a more intimate relationship with the remote, as Edward Abbey put it. You can often see fifty miles or more in all directions, sometimes while looking at landscapes not massively altered from the way they looked one hundred years ago, two hundred years ago, five hundred years ago. Thousands and thousands of years even. If you spend enough time out there, something in you changes—something to do with time. The imaginariness of human societies and institutions becomes palpable as they all vanish. It's a sweet and cool feeling, like a slow cloud shadow passing over land. It relieves you, peeling you, I think, momently, momentarily, of your soul. Maybe not—maybe souls, whatever they are, aren't so easily peeled. But relief is certainly what it is. When you are tired of specific human worlds, or of the American versions of them, as I was, it is a very nice feeling. It's the pleasure of being already gone. And I was really gone that day, out there, adrift in it. But then the world right in front of me began to explode.

I mean that it really was exploding. There were big puffs of white smoke, turning into great plumes. Flashes of bright light accompanied each new eruption. This was happening all along the upper rim of the alluvial fan that spread down from Hidalgo into the big desert basin where I sat. What I had long taken for a toothy ridgeline of pale rock had begun to boom and send up smoke. Because these weren't rocks—this, my screen told me, as I pulled it from my pocket, was another imaginary world.

An imaginary city: a fake one, made for invading and occupying. And that's what was happening right now. The Marines were on the move. The place was a training ground, built and rebuilt, my phone quickly informed me, out of shipping containers and other modular materials—all to resemble a small Middle Eastern city. The pictures of the place I pulled up all looked like full 3-D expressions of the streets and interiors of first-person shooter video games. Today the Marines were practicing capturing it, or securing it, or fighting door-to-door urban skirmishes in it—storming with live weaponry through an imaginary town in the middle of the desert.

That day there'd be no more wanderings in imagination back to the Pleistocene, or to some future epoch in the dreamtime of the earth. I was back in what geologists themselves were considering calling the Anthropocene— a new epoch, ours, the one in which humans had begun to substantively alter the composition of the earth, both the atmosphere and the interior of the living crust of the planet. I was no longer lost in the desert, I was back in the USA.

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Excerpted from Shadowlands by Anthony McCann. Copyright © 2019 by Anthony McCann. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury USA. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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