Strangeness, wordplay, and loss saturate Wheeler’s debut essay collection, launched from southern New Mexico but aimed at the creaky mythology of American progress ... Wheeler visits a UFO festival, investigates the final days of a condemned criminal, and discovers a utopian asylum. Wheeler also introduces us to his family: proud, decadent, dying. If his hallucinogenic prose sometimes resembles the great twentieth-century gonzos, so does his moral outrage and his yearning for authenticity.
There is no question Wheeler is smart. He is up to taking on New Mexico’s once grand hopes for success — and their desiccated remains today — on a prominent stage ... But by the rules of assured command of a chosen form, Wheeler’s prolixity sometimes seems the product of someone who doesn’t quite trust himself. So he says more about more, occasionally repeating it for emphasis. He’s that friend at the bar, admittedly astute and entertaining, who a few beers into the evening is manically rafting the endless rapids of his own stream of consciousness ... Acid West aims to make the point that something about the clarity of its air and the view it permits to galaxies beyond ours, or its dry sands, or the people who can take it and make it there, clarifies something both simple and complex about America: it’s messed up. But in some really interesting ways. Let Joshua Wheeler show you just how much.
Joshua Wheeler detours around them all in favor of his native southern New Mexico in the engagingly chatty and seriocomic Acid West ... Wheeler is determined to put 'SNM' on the map on new terms that don't play to stereotypes ... Wheeler is the inheritor of a conflict that's defined the last few generations of American essay writers — they're supposed to speak their passions but also keep their emotions at a distance. It's a hard balance to maintain, and sometimes Wheeler drifts toward glibness or callousness.