JOSHUA WHEELER discusses his essay collection ACID WEST with BRIAN PHILLIPS
Acid West (FSG/MCD)
Acid West is a rollicking trip through the muck of American myths that have settled in our country’s underbelly. Following the footsteps of John Jeremiah Sullivan and Eula Biss, yet displaying an antic energy and freewheeling imagination entirely his own, Wheeler is a nonfiction virtuoso with a preternatural talent for dissecting the uncanniness of our cultural moment. The first collection of his sui generis essays, Acid West is an outstanding debut that’s sure to become a cult classic.
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 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 videogames; a village plagued by the legacy of atomic testing; a lonely desert spaceport; 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 beautifully 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.
Praise for Acid West
“Acid West is a freaky, stylish, heart-cracking- open book about the beautiful and bonkers badlands of the Southwest. Josh Wheeler’s essays throb with radioactive resonance and the Technicolor brilliance of a desert sunset. I’m in awe of this book.” —Claire Vaye Watkins
“It’s been a long wait for Joshua Wheeler’s first book, but it would have been worth the wait even if we’d had to wait twice as long. Full of fine lines mined by a still-young writer, Acid West is worth its weight in gold.” —Geoff Dyer
“In a captivating, beautifully wrought voice, Joshua Wheeler creates precise, intuitive essays about his Land of Enchantment that reveal its haunted and marginalized history. Acid West is a protest love song by a virtuosic storyteller who makes me laugh and marvel at the overlooked wonders and weirdness of New Mexico and its borderlands.” —Carmen Giménez Smith
“Joshua Wheeler and his marauding curiosity make a spectacular debut in Acid West, a collection of essays that 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
“Reading Joshua Wheeler’s Acid West is like drinking a shot of some ultraviolet potion that leaves your brain scrambled. In these essays, America appears through entirely new goggles, as both holy and toxic, fluorescent and sepia’ed. On topics from baseball to space, the atomic bomb to death-row love, Wheeler has found a new vernacular. You could file him under Denis Johnson or John Jeremiah Sullivan, but that’d be doing a disservice to the electric, revelatory claim he’s staked all his own.” —Michael Paterniti
“[Acid West] renders the banal strange and the strange even stranger . . . Mesmerizing . . . Wheeler challenges conventions of the personal essay with unexpected stylistic devices.”—Publishers Weekly
“Wheeler’s essays limn this American outback and its unsettled and sometimes-unsettling ways . . .In a dusty rejoinder to Chuck Klosterman’s Fargo Rock City, Wheeler shows a fine eye for the stranger aspects of this country.” —Kirkus Reviews
Joshua Wheeler is from Alamogordo, New Mexico. His essays have appeared in many literary journals, including The Iowa Review, Sonora Review, PANK, and the Missouri Review. He has written feature stories for BuzzFeed and Harper’s Magazine online and is a coeditor of the anthology We Might as Well Call It the Lyric Essay. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California, and New Mexico State University, and has an MFA in nonfiction writing from the University of Iowa. He teaches creative writing at Louisiana State University.
Brian Phillips is a former staff writer for Grantland and a former senior writer for MTV News. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, Slate, and Poetry, among other publications, as well as in Best American Sports Writing and Best American Magazine Writing. He lives in Los Angeles.
Joshua Wheeler hoto by Madi Rae Cronin