Okay, so this is tricky. I am not entirely sure how to rate this one. You'll see I made an attempt- let's call it at 3.5, just for kicks. I'll spell iOkay, so this is tricky. I am not entirely sure how to rate this one. You'll see I made an attempt- let's call it at 3.5, just for kicks. I'll spell it out a little more clearly below. I am not certain that anything I've written is a spoiler, but if you're worried about that at all, I'd quit reading here to be safe. This might be the most in-depth review I've ever written, which suggests that I am really invested in this book.
What I loved: The writing, overall. Matis is very obviously a talented writer, without question, and much of the book reads like prose. I particularly loved the way she wrote about the hike and the PCT in general. As a hiker myself, I appreciated feeling transported into the woods and felt like I was along for her journey even if I wish she had spent more time writing about some of it in greater detail. There's little chance I'll ever thru-hike the PCT, so reading about it in such great detail was lovely.
I loved the flow of the book, and it absolutely held my interest. I did little else other than read this book, and I wanted to stay up late and get up early just to have more reading time before/after work. Her writing is a gift. And I admit, I love a good book about hiking.
I also loved the overarching story and theme- traumatic event at college (rape) which caused her to rethink her priorities and go for a (really long) hike, during which time she also reexamines her life. I get that. It resonates. Now...
What I didn't love so much: Admittedly, I didn't always like Matis herself (or, more accurately, the way she wrote herself). Maybe it was the way she wanted to be viewed and maybe it was intentional, but she often came across as spoiled, narcissistic, and self-obsessed (which I recognize is a little redundant). She wrote often of her vitriol for her mother (who, admittedly, seems overbearing... but at this point Matis is 19+ years old and it seems like her mother's sins didn't warrant this type of hatred), and yet alternately seemed conflicted about her relationship with both parents. The use of "mommy" and "daddy" also didn't sit well with me, even used as a literary device, because ... well, ick. I am really walking away from this book having no idea what the deal is with her parents- whether they were "good" people or "bad" people, overbearing parents or just normal parents. In fact, I walked away not even really convinced Matis knows this herself (or, rather, is not willing to share with us).
She seems to hold women to a far higher standard than men (feel free to just think about how she talks about Silverfox and her mom versus how she talks about Edison and her dad. It's worthy of thought). Her vanity was also striking- there was a sheer obsession with weight, glasses, etc. that prevailed through the story. It seemed to me she was as lovely looking "before" the hike/transformation as she was "after" (there are photos of both in the book), but that her internal definition of beauty (and maybe those around her influenced that) was/is largely skewed.
Additionally, I didn't like most of the people she chose to spend time with on the trail, most notably Edison. She recognizes early on that she shouldn't be spending time with him (and yes, through her journey admits that her passivity is an issue)... and yet never acknowledges in the book that he is flat out racist and hateful (despite directly quoting him in a way that leaves the reader no choice but to know he is a racist). I physically cringed nearly every time he spoke, and wanted to scrub my eyes out, but Matis kept hiking on with him. It was hard to watch.
Gratuitous sex. I am sure those words are rarely paired together for most folks, but for a book largely billed as a transformative hiking experience, I found that Matis spent a lot of time talking about sex, having sex (not at all including the pivotal rape here, of course- that was obviously imperative for the telling of the story), and talking about thinking about sex. It just seemed a bit much. To go along with that, there were a few pieces of animal violence I could have lived without, but I guess maybe they were necessary. I guess sex and violence must have been part of her journey, but it felt like too big a part of this story for me (excluding, again, the pivotal rape).
And last, but not least, Dash. I realize we are supposed to see him as the knight in shining armor, but I really was not able to see that. He was 10 years her senior, yet struck me as relatively irresponsible. He wasn't employed, maybe was retired (maybe not?), had no plans post-PCT (Matis really didn't either, but she was 19- I guess I don't find that as unusual), left her for part of the trail (yes, she said she was okay with it.... but was she?), and just read a little creepy to me. Maybe I missed his charm. I am happy Matis was happy with him, because the boys before him in the book (yes, boys- these were not men, regardless of their age, because of their behavior) were just atrocious. It all felt and read a little strange. And it appears in the acknowledgements that they are no longer together, but I couldn't tell from the way it was written whether their relationship ended or he passed away, so I don't know how to feel about that.
The only other thing I will say is this book needed a stronger hand at editing. There were typos (several) and some repetitiveness. That's maybe not Matis's fault, but...
So, I know this review sounded like I disliked more than I liked. I guess maybe that's true, but I also actually really did like the book. I didn't do much other than read it from the time I cracked the spine, and I found it very readable and interesting. I work at a college, and can easily see how this could translate for students and would actually love to have Matis come and speak on campus because I am certain her story is compelling. I loved her writing, and I fundamentally loved the story. I certainly loved the hike. I refuse to compare it to Wild- I love Strayed too much to do that, and they are fundamentally different stories and women. Read them both- they're both worth it, really.
Long and short- if you like hiking, read it. If you like a transformative story, read it. If you're into stories that wrap up neatly with a bow (with great editing), read it- but know that's not what you're getting. I do recommend this one, honestly. It's a good read....more
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