Evelyn's Reviews > Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Wild by Cheryl Strayed
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's review
Aug 05, 2012

really liked it
Read in August, 2012

Perhaps I've overdosed on the whole personal memoir genre, or perhaps the last two I've read were simply written by women who I never would have chosen to spend time with. Elizabeth Gilbert's 'Eat Pray Love' was the first more egregious memoir. This one, though problematic, was at least satisfying enough though I thought the author's repeated, to my mind almost endless portrayal of herself as a lovely young thing who was--to her great despair--something of a man magnet rings somewhat false after a few too many reminders. Though this book has quite a bit to recommend it--including deceptively simple, fluid writing that's actually lovely and evocative--it hit me midway through the book that I had absolutely nothing in common with the author, nor would I ever have chosen to spend any time with her. Plus I wasn't convinced that I totally believed her complete retelling which is why I opted for the 4 stars rather than 4.5 rounded up (4.5 I think is what the book rightly deserves).

The plot is interesting: after the early death of her mother, the author descends into unrelenting grief, which rapidly causes her life to fall apart. I don't mean to belittle her feelings; she's the daughter of an abusive father who left the family when she was very young, and she was raised by her mother who appears to have been a very giving, loving parent.

But rather than figure out some way to cope with the death of her mother and the unwinding of her immediate family she serially cheats on her husband, begins using drugs, quits college one assignment shy of attaining her degree and takes an endless series of waitressing jobs as she self destructs. After reading about the Pacific Crest Trail while on line at a local REI (a sort-of mirror of the Appalachian Trail on the Atlantic side of the US) she decides that hiking the PCT alone for a few months would help her reverse her self destructive descent. It's an interesting premise, and one that no doubt many would subscribe to--contemplating the majesty of nature will realign you with your best self.

For months the author saves her tips and spends her money on an array of hiking gear (some necessary, some totally wasteful) while hardly studying up on the actual rigors and pitfalls of the trek she's taking. She starts her trip in late June, optimistic and stupidly naive, and quickly realizes she's bitten off a lot more than she was prepared to chew. Her shortsightedness and foolishness really irritated me, though I have to admit that her determination to complete her trek was impressive.

And though she does manage to complete an altered version of her trek, so many of the problems she faces on her journey were of her own making, and were solved in so many cases by the kindness of strangers or fellow hikers she encountered on her way that I found myself growing more and more irritated with the author's shallowness and repeated guilelessness.

No doubt reviewers will rave about this book, and Hollywood studios will compete to acquire the rights to make the movie version (though Julia Roberts might be a bit too old for the lead), but at its core this is just another story about extended immaturity that refuses to face reality and just suck it up and deal with the problem at hand. And maybe there's something here that's not quite totally truthful either, in the service of a smoothly told story with a beginning, dramatic arc middle and satisfying denouement.

I'm certain there will be those that think I'm too harsh. However, not unlike how I felt about Gilbert's own self indulgent tale, I'm really sick of the self congratulatory epistles so many or these recent memoirs seem to have become, with much the same overriding story: I was horrifyingly damaged, but I managed to cure myself by (pick one): travel, treking, therapy, teaching in Africa and so forth.
What happened to getting a grip, putting one's nose to the grindstone and simply battling through--the way most of us do?
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