Daniel Suelo isn’t as easy to peg as he first seems. And
like his subject, Mark Sundeen’s book The
Man Who Quit Money offers more than the surface appearance of celebrating a
Suelo (nee Shellabarger) is certainly a fascinating subject for a profile: a 50-something fellow who has spent more than a decade living day by day (mostly in the caves of Southern Utah), refusing organized charity, finding his food by foraging or individual gifts, working without accepting any payment. It’s a radical lifestyle choice, and as Sundeen digs into Suelo’s life story—from childhood fundamentalism through coming out as gay and dealing with clinical depression—he finds that it comes from a thoroughly unexpected mix of hippie philosophical wanderings, revisionist Christianity, right-wing tirades against the Federal Reserve and left-wing outrage against the primacy of profit.
Sundeen mixes in some useful background research, from the unique vibe of Moab that has made it an ideal home-base for Suelo to the various cultural traditions of those who give up all worldly possessions to modern simplicity/freegan/locavore movements. Yet it’s far from a piece of advocacy journalism for a specific lifestyle choice. Instead, it remains singularly interested in this singular man, and what it looks like when someone commits unequivocally to the dictates of their conscience. The result is both resonant as a character study and infinitely thought-provoking in its challenge to all our preconceptions about modern life—and about the small and large hypocrisies people of all philosophies and religious paths assume they need to accept.
Sundeen and Suelo will attend a signing/reading event at The King’s English Bookshop on Wednesday, March 14 @ 7 p.m.