Book Review: Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land

Amy Irvine struggles to find her place among the cowboys and Mormons of Utah’s red-rock country.

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


After her alcoholic father’s suicide, Amy Irvine, a former nationally ranked competitive rock climber, flees Salt Lake City for the cocoon of a beloved landscape, Utah’s red-rock country. “My home is a red desert that trembles with spirits and bones,” she begins. The jacket would have us believe Trespass is about the fight to save this desert wilderness from cowboys and their cattle who devour it. Some of the best of it is. “To epitomize ranching as the essence of Western life is to ignore…that an elimination of public-land livestock grazing would result in a loss of only 0.1 percent of the West’s total employment.”

But Irvine spends far more time exploring her desire to fit into a human world she both desires and despises. “I have always lived at the tip of a frail, slender branch that threatens to break whenever I am forced into close quarters with others.” The significant other she struggles with is her “lion man,” a coworker and fellow conservationist at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, a brave, committed, unfaltering partner and welcome counterpoint to Irvine’s crippling doubts and fears. The troublesome others she grapples with are her neighbors, since Irvine hasn’t moved to just any wilderness but a Mormon one. Her own background, full of Mormon faith, rejection, and conflict, is summed up by a childhood Sunday school question: What would you do if Jesus came to your house? “I’d fix him a cocktail,” quipped her five-year-old sister.

Trespass is full of musings on Native American history, meat, hunter-gatherers, guns, polygamy, women, violence. Irvine’s language is lovely, her stories compelling. She shares deep insights. The problem is, at least two books live tangled inside this one, sometimes warring at the transitions. Irvine alludes to this tendency toward tangents in a painful confession. Invited at last to a gathering of local women in San Juan County, she’s surprised to find good wine and imported cheese. Hope sprouts. But she drinks a second glass of wine and “[m]y mouth opens like a pent-up river…I flood the room with my politics, inundate senses and sensibilities. It’s too much too fast, and there’s no vision.” Now that the overflow is past, I look forward to her next book.


If you buy a book using the Bookshop link on this page, a small share of the proceeds supports our journalism.

A BETTER WAY TO DO THIS?

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and we can't afford to come up short. But when a reader recently asked how being a nonprofit makes Mother Jones different from other news organizations, we realized we needed to lay this out better: Because "in absolutely every way" is essentially the answer.

So we tried to explain why your year-end donations are so essential, and we'd like your help refining our pitch about what make Mother Jones valuable and worth reading to you.

We'd also like your support of our journalism with a year-end donation if you can right now—all online gifts will be doubled until we hit our $350,000 goal thanks to an incredibly generous donor's matching gift pledge.

payment methods

A BETTER WAY TO DO THIS?

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and we can't afford to come up short. But when a reader recently asked how being a nonprofit makes Mother Jones different from other news organizations, we realized we needed to lay this out better: Because "in absolutely every way" is essentially the answer.

So we tried to explain why your year-end donations are so essential, and we'd like your help refining our pitch about what make Mother Jones valuable and worth reading to you.

We'd also like your support of our journalism with a year-end donation if you can right now—all online gifts will be doubled until we hit our $350,000 goal thanks to an incredibly generous donor's matching gift pledge.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate