Acid West

Joshua Wheeler limns the American West like never before in his hallucinatory debut collection of essays, Acid West.

The 13 essays, many previously appearing in publications like PANK and BuzzFeed, read like the film subgenre for which the book is named. Centered in southern New Mexico, these pieces are surreal, savage and psychedelic. They plumb anxieties and tensions beneath cowboy culture. Their gaudiness has a campy yet sere quality that borders on the mythic. In "Raggedy, Raggedy Wabbitman," Wheeler explores the origins of his family ranch in Alamogordo, specifically the boisterous shenanigans of his great-great-great grandfather, who made a business and a town out of hunting jackrabbits and selling the hides and meat. "George grips the lucky foot like it's the last one on earth," Wheeler writes. "The thirst rises inside him, the hope that chance is a real antidote to fate."

From this morbidly quaint genesis springs a multiplicity of stories and identities, more complex than what cowboy movies portray. Wheeler writes of pioneers and ranch hands but also of dispossessed Native Americans, nuclear testing, drone technology, alien sightings and modern truth-seekers drawn to the strange amalgam of New Mexican culture. Some essays on the various military industries in the state become clunky with nomenclature, while others glow with eerie prescience. "The Light of God," for example, brilliantly combines baseball with the "surreal moral universe" of drone warfare. At its best, Acid West slips beneath the time-warped edges of the film strip that is American culture, finding darkness and a bit of light. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

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