An Unreasonable Woman / By Diane Wilson

By Diane Wilson. Chelsea Green, 394 pp, $34.50, hardcover.

It's a familiar scenario: when mega-polluting industries want in on cheap land and free water, a few politicians get greased and then the whole region pays, either with cash or with cancer.

Business as usual, right? Not for Diane Wilson, fourth-generation shrimp-boat captain and unrepentant shit disturber. When Formosa Plastics, based in the toxic sinkhole that is Taiwan, wanted to replicate its home conditions near the fishing community of Seadrift, Texas, Wilson stood up-and, along with a ragtag coalition of redneck moms, Vietnamese-American crabbers, and big-city activists, stopped the manufacturer's plans to spew chemical sludge into the environmentally sensitive waters of the bayou country.

Wilson nearly lost her life in the process, when unidentified parties sabotaged the bilge pumps on her old wooden fishing boat, the SeaBee. She did lose her home, her husband, and, at least temporarily, a fair chunk of her sanity, thanks to her passion for justice. But she won her battle, and her story will be an inspiration to environmentalists everywhere.

Still, An Unreasonable Woman could have been much more compelling had it been more stringently edited. It's wonderful that Wilson's voice has been recorded so faithfully. And she's a smart, caustic narrator, as shown by her take on the class politics of pollution: "I was used to the cash flow business. It was old hat now. Some had money and some didn't. The rich got richer, and [the] poor went downhill. I believed it was even in the Bible somewhere, and more than likely some part of a Pentecostal Sunday sermon I heard. How else can you console people except make it biblical, make it inevitable?" Elsewhere, however, her style is so chatty that it spirals in on itself, and at 400 pages this book is a third longer than it needs to be.

What emerges, nonetheless, is a field guide to how one committed individual can stare down an international corporation and win. And given that Wilson's memoir emanates from the heart of Bush country, where the local politicians have been bought off and the regulatory agencies crippled, it's especially cheering.