WILD is a fearlessly told, wildly fantastic, and entertaining story. The author, Cheryl Strayed (not her birth name, but one she chose after a her divorce) exceeded any and all expectations I had when Wild arrived in my mailbox. This is a memoir, but reads like a novel. All human behavior, interaction, and communication, I think, is best understood via the narrative, in other words—a story. And so I am going to talk about this story as if it were fiction – in the language of the six fundamental elements of a story.
Title. Perfect. To look at the spine is to see Cheryl Strayed WILD. Which would induce me to pluck it off any shelf. [However, I think the cover would have been better with a snapshot of Cheryl, or a trail maker of the PCT; but I understand the choice of the boot.] Cheryl Strayed is a wild girl, as she says: “I was an experimentalist … An artist. The kind of woman who said yes instead of no.” (p. 54) That is a trail marker letting the reader know just what kind of journey you are about to get into.
Plot. One of the best – Redemption of the human soul through the force of will, strength, and toughness. Briefly, Cheryl was born in 1968, white, female, attractive, intelligent, and in addition had the benefit of a college education. You could call her advantaged. But, big but, she was born into rural poverty and domestic violence and then her champion, advocate, and sole support – her mother – died suddenly of cancer when Cheryl was twenty-two. Cheryl, lost, descended into debauchery, seemingly bent on self- destruction via sex and drugs.
Characterization. Not only did I quickly begin to root for Cheryl, I fell in love with her. She was/is the personification of my “perfect” woman. [I am aware, wistfully, that the person I am in love with is a fiction—a 26 year-old woman with the wisdom and wit of the same person 15 years later.] Not only was she white, young, attractive, intelligent, and funny; she was by her declaration: “—strong and responsible, clear-eyed and driven, ethical and good.” (p. 57) [And] “I was a big fat idiot and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing …” (p.58) [Told you she was funny.] And it just keeps getting better, funnier; and yet in the next sentence she is as likely to bring tears to my eyes as to make me laugh out loud.
Point of view. Her voice is perfect. I can hear her, see her! In all her joy and sadness and frustration, in other words, in all her humanity … or femaleness. Cheryl blends the past with the present in the telling of her story masterfully. There is no confusion for the reader. Her wisdom and humor and reflection merge in ways that are really rare in writing.
Setting. The Pacific Crest Trail, from the deserts of southern California, through the high Sierras and into the “Box of Rain” to the Bridge of the Gods on the Columbia River in Oregon, she describes it beautifully, as well as all the characters, camps, and towns along the trail. And most significantly for me—what it is like to hike alone, mile after mile after mile. [A thing I am very, very familiar with.]
Theme. The power of the human spirit and the unequivocal interaction of the force of nature with that of man (woman) to combine to heal and restore a person to their true self.
This is a rare book. I read a lot, and have never fallen for a writer and a voice and a story like I did for Cheryl Strayed and WILD.