Last October I drove to Stevensville, Montana to visit a friend. I had been planning to visit her last summer, but I came down with a nasty case of the shingles and had to reschedule. I chose the date because it coincided with the Montana Humanities Festival of the Book, Missoula’s annual literary festival. My friend and I were delighted that Pam Houston was going to be there, an author we’re both completely enamored of, or with, or whatever. I saw Pam in passing but we missed her reading from Contents May Have Shifted (an AMAZING book) because it takes a bit to get from Stevensville to Missoula. We found an interesting sounding panel though, something about the American culture of money, and sat down. The two authors on the panel were David Wolman, who chronicled a year in which he lived without cash in his book The End of Money, and Mark Sundeen, who wrote The Man Who Quit Money.
The panel was interesting enough that I bought Sundeen’s book and my friend bought Wolman’s, with the idea of switching after we read them. I just finished Sundeen’s book and am getting ready to pass it on to my friend. But first, a short review: Decent read—the story will stay with you. The writing didn’t knock me out.
The book’s about Daniel Suelo, who has lived without money for over a decade. Sundeen goes over the who, what, when, and where pretty quickly. The rest of the book is dedicated to the “why,” mostly, and that’s one point where I think the author failed. Obviously there are situations in which a writer might want to get that stuff out of the way so that we stay focused on the “why.” I just don’t think it worked particularly well here—I felt the story was over after the first 15 to 20 pages and I couldn’t see what he was going to do to fill up the rest of the book. The rest, of course, turned out to be fairly interesting—Suelo grew up in a religiously fundamentalist household. He struggled early on with the injustices and indignities of using money. He realized, like a lot of us, that those who have the most are the least willing to give, while those who have little are more eager to share. Through the years Suelo studied many religions and religious texts, gleaning what he felt important enough to carry on from each set of ideas, and eventually melded them together to make an ever-changing, ever-evolving base.
Suelo seems like he’d be a great conversationalist, and the story’s a good one—the man leaves behind all money, lives in caves around Moab, Utah, and lives quite well doing so. It’s inspiring, and though not many of us could do what he did, for various reasons, not the least of those being that it’s unfortunately illegal to camp out indefinitely, it makes for a great story with a moral.
Looking across the fields, we could see that Mathew and Melony’s house stood just a hundred yards away, a literal stone’s throw from this Eden. It seemed truly mystical how unfindable, moneyless Suelo had materialized from the ether and led us across the desert, to Melontopia. To the abundance. Mathew and Melony and I filled our arms with melons, hoarding them like iGadgets we’d liberated from Best Buy after a hurricane. But Suelo chose only a single, small green fruit. He lowered it into his crate and silently pedaled off.
Either it’s over-written, or it’s too early. We haven’t yet learned anything about Suelo’s religious and economic ideal, why his commitment means so much, all the underlay. Because by the end of the book I could see that section working better, but where it’s at is too much too soon. Read more »