I cried reading the author's acknowledgments. That's some good writing, eh?
ETA: I forgot to mention the friendships in my original review.I cried reading the author's acknowledgments. That's some good writing, eh?
ETA: I forgot to mention the friendships in my original review. Along with the literary references (and all the U2!), I loved Weber's portrayal of her friendships. They were so beautiful and honest and read. Her relationships with Edward and Hannah in particular were engaging. Surprsingly, Weber's relationship with TDH was one of the less-memorable parts of the book (though that sounds harsh as I type it). Books make me so sentimental!
Though I started with a heave heart and was hunting for some theological inconsistencies which would allow me to place Weber in the "other" camp than mine, the slow crescendo of the story softened my heart. There were some differences, to be completely candid, but it didn't seem to matter by the end of the story. Weber's vast literary references and gently crafted phrases requested that I stop to sigh more than once while reading this memoir and the sighs only grew richer as the story continued.
This book was important to my spirit. I remember what it felt like to be a new believer and to be so full of desire for God. In fact, may God have mercy on this old complacent soul. Growing up in church and experience an early "coming to faith" is both beneficial and challenging. Sometimes I'm jealous of my friends who have dramatic coming-of-faith stories from their adulthood. How powerful that is! How sure they must feel that their decisions weren't muddied by hormones or peer pressure or family expectations. (Of course those things can still be factors for adults, and God's grace and mercy are bigger than that, anyway.)
This book was also important to my mind. 2012 has been a renaissance of learning for me. I'm hungry for more scripture but also for more poetry and prose of all sorts, from Homer to Rumi to Keats to Lewis and beyond.
I may add this to the top=ten list, but perhaps I should sleep on it first. :)...more
I'll stand by my previous statement: This memoir is totally A Walk in the Woods, meets Into the Wild meets (only briefly) Eat, Pray, Love. Only, its bI'll stand by my previous statement: This memoir is totally A Walk in the Woods, meets Into the Wild meets (only briefly) Eat, Pray, Love. Only, its better than EPL because the author isn't whiney and privileged. She's educated and white, but grew up quite poor.
A dark tone hovered over the first few sections. The author's mother died and she emotionally deteriorated. As one who works with grief and loss on a daily basis, its seems quite clear that she never had the tools to deal with the emotional devastation from her father's abandonment her mother's death, and the dissolution of the relationships with rest of her family (stepfather and siblings). She sought to fill those "holes" in her spirit with drugs and sex, to the point that she cheated on her husband (who she says little negative about and clearly loved very much) and shared the spoon and her body with a needy heroin addict.
The author and most of her circle were true free-spirit hippies. (I tried to find a word or phrase that didn't assign a moral value to this quality, but it was difficult. "Free-spirit hippies" was the best I could do.) She identified herself as outside of "mainstream," which is honestly off my radar. They attended Rainbow Festivals. That piece of the story was intriguing to my southern evangelical upbringing. I couldn't believe some of the things she did/tried, and not necessarily the drugs and sex, but the trust and openness. It definitely wasn't all bad, and it helped Cheryl far more often than it endangered her. I would never make it out there for, among other reasons, not being more like that. Of course, people get killed in the wilderness for the same reasons.
Regarding that same hippie-aspect of the story, I felt gratitude for the structure in my nuclear family in my growing-up years. Cheryl's parents were great parents in a lot of ways, but I am thankful that organized religion was part of my life. I thought about that often as I read the book. Firmly rooted in my faith tradition, I have some effective tools to access in times of pain that Cheryl didn't have. Again - I'm not trying to assign a value statement like "right" and "wrong" to life experiences, but I know that I felt gratitude for church and prayer and holy books and even rules. That's just an awareness that happened as I journeyed alongside Cheryl. YMMV.
It was a good read, for sure. Cheryl was less grumpy and condescending than Bill Bryson (Walk in the Woods) and obviously the ending is a bit cheerier than Into the Wild since its a memoir. Its miles and miles (and miles) above Eat, Pray, Love since the author doesn't come across as entitled. I appreciated her literary awareness (much more sophisticated than mine) and learned from her in that way. She has a list at the end of the book of everything she read on the trail. I've added a few to my to-read list, too. I leave the book feeling challenged to live more simply and to be content without accumulating. I miss quiet and solitude. If anything, its inspired me to check off a few more miles of my own nearby Appalachian Trail. I've hiked a whopping 14 of them. I could do another few this summer. I have this book to thank for that.
Edit: I've reflected on several recent memoirs and this one ranks among the best. A lot of memoirs are crap. This one is not. I had planned to sell my copy of this book but now I kind of want to keep it....more
I slugged him in the arm as he laughed. Then he lunged at me, grabbing my arms and using his leg to sweep myOkay. Here's what's wrong with this book:
I slugged him in the arm as he laughed. Then he lunged at me, grabbing my arms and using his leg to sweep my supporting leg right out from under me. Within an instant, he had me on the ground, right on the soft, green grass of his front yard. I shrieked and screamed, trying in vain to wrestle my way out from his playful grasp, but my wimpy upper body was no match for his impossible strength. He tickled me, and being the most ticklish human being in the Northern Hemisphere, I screamed bloody murder. Afraid I'd wet my pants (it was a valid concern), I fought back the only way I knew how--by grabbing and untucking his shirt from his Wranglers . . . and running my hand up his back, poking at his rib cage.
The tickling suddenly stopped. Marlboro Man propped himself on his elbows, holding my face in his hands. He kissed me passionately and seriously, and what started as a playful wrestling match became an impromptu make-out session in his front yard. It was an unlikely place for such an event, and considering it was at the very beginning of our night together, an unlikely time. But it was also strangely perfect. Because sometime during all the laughing and tickling and wrestling and rolling around in the grass, my worry and concern over my parents' troubles had magically melted away. (p 95)
These paragraphs are examples of why I rolled my eyes on every other page. Its also probably an example of why I'm not such a faithful follower of her blog. Yes, its a nice blog, but a nice blog doesn't make a great book. The above scene, like all of the other romantic scenes, is like watching a scene from Boy Meets World. Its mind candy that was a lot more fun when I was a kid. Its terribly predictable and it distinctly reminds me of my first relationship. All of the reasons she lists for knowing its real love this time with Marlboro Man were things I would have listed in my first serious relationship, which was not forever, no matter how much I wanted him to "wrap his strong arms around my waist." (EYES ROLLING here) Its not love; its hormones. Don't get me wrong, I wish Ree and Marlboro Man a long and happy marriage, but if its successful, it isn't because of what Ree is calling "love." Would she still love him if he didn't have sculptured rippling biceps or if he didn't always "take charge?" (She loves it when he takes charge.) Physical attraction is a lovely beautiful thing, but its so sad to me when it gets confused for love.
A better story of love that I've read recently was in Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters. It was much more serene, much more committed, much less physical (at least to the reader). I've ruined myself with Victorian lit, I guess, because this saccharine-sweet stuff doesn't float my boat anymore.
As a quasi-feminist, I'm kind of annoyed by Ree's adoration for MM. We get it. He's a cowboy. That's nice. He's big and strong and manly. He fixes her car. He drives one hour one way to get her and pick her up for dates. Fine. Whatever. I never minded meeting my husband halfway in between during our long-distance courtship. MM never has to change. Ree has to do all the changing to make this relationship work. Does this bother anyone else? Its a good thing she didn't really write this to send a message because I don't like the message it sends.
As far as memoirs go, another recent read of mine, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed is of a much higher literary quality. (Of course its a totally different animal. Really all the two have in common with one another is that they're both memoirs of women who are about the same age.) Its probably because Strayed talks about books and authors and ideas and things other than the golf course her parents lived, how many coats of mascara she applied for a date with MM, those damn black boots, and what a sassy urban girl she is. This is so harsh and I hate to write it, but I don't like Ree after reading this. According to what she writes in this book, she is shallow and self-centered. I might like to go shopping with her or read her blog, but I don't want to invest in a lasting relationship with her or read her memoir. I'm giving it two stars because I still didn't hate it, despite the harsh review I wrote. Its still better than some other crap out there....more