Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Book Review - Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail



Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

 

Cheryl Strayed


Category: nonfiction, memoir, hiking, Pacific Coast Trail

Synopsis: In order to change her life and shake the grief of losing her mother to cancer, Strayed plans to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) alone, from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington.

Date finished: 13 March 2013

Rating: ****

Comments: All along I was thinking: how am I going to rate this book? It seems like whenever I read a book that’s become hugely successful, I feel swayed by the reviews that came with it. On the one hand, this is a wonderfully engaging read. It was the kind of book you have a hard time putting down. Strayed is a successful storyteller, capturing and holding your attention. I felt like I was taking that hike with her. It was fascinating.
     On the other hand, though, I found her immature and self-destructive behaviors (drug use, indiscriminate sex, etc.) something I wanted to, at best, pity, and at worst, run from. Almost worse was her absolute unpreparedness for the trek she’d embarked on. She hadn’t read a book, asked other hikers what to expect, considered the weight of her pack, nothing. It was like watching a kid run away from home with only a bag of candy and a comb. Yikes.
     There were a few times during her everything-that-can-go-wrong-will-go-wrong tales when I wondered if I was being had. Was I being moved along by a true story, or had she embellished for effect? While this is a risk with all memoirs, it’s especially risky in a memoir about an event that takes place in virtual solitude. No one could corroborate or deny her story. It seemed almost too good (or bad) to be true. I hate to be this cynical, but the thought did occur to me, so it seems fair to mention it here.
     In the end, we’re left to believe that the trail cured her. Cured her of her grief over losing her mother years before, cured her of her drug abuse, cured her of her lascivious appetites, cured her of the desire to destroy the good things in her life, cured her of her naivet√©. I’m not sure I bought it. Yet, while she was wildly immature, her story was told with a depth of maturity that I can only attribute to her years spent after the trail. So maybe the trail did “cure” her. Certainly an experience like that would change a person.
     I appreciate how her last page or two mentioned the fact that she married and had children. I had worried that when it was all over, when she reached her destination, and we all got off the trail with her, she wouldn’t give any indication of where she ended up. I’m glad to know.
     I’ll leave off with one of my favorite passages that, to me, encapsulated the feeling I got while imagining myself on the trail—in her hiking boots—so to speak:
Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was. The radical aloneness of the PCT had altered that sense. Alone wasn’t a room anymore, but the whole wide world, and now I was alone in that world, occupying it in a way I never had before. (page 119)

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Yes, but with the warning of drugs, sex, and other behaviors that may turn some folks off.

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