Jason's Reviews > Into the Wild

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
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Feb 09, 10

Recommended to Jason by: Discussion at work, and I felt left out
Read in September, 2009

Chris McCandless had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder!! This is not a spoiler; it's my interpretation of the evidence provided by the author. McCandless had OCD. Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild is objectively written (more on the written word later), and goes to great length—medically, pharmacologically, and, especially, psychologically—to explain what happened to this 24 year old when he traipsed into the Alaskan bush under-equipped with 20 pounds of gear, mostly dry rice and books.

I'm not a subject matter expert, so you can drill holes through my untrained theory. However, I've lived 40 years with a close relative that has OCD. The suffering has been overwhelming for this individual and our family. I believe this gives me enough credibility to lean into the psychology, and participate in the discussion on what drove Chris McCandless repeatedly—like a ritual—into the wild.

We're familiar with the most common manifestations of OCD—washing, collecting, counting—all ritualistic behavior performed invariably by highly-functioning, competent, otherwise rational people, always against their will and better judgment, capable of being controlled, yet incapable of being stopped. Though we recognize common forms, there's myriad other shades of OCD that have been documented in professional literature. Indeed, as each individual is a unique analysand, it's reasonable to say that there's a unique OCD for every person that has OCD; or, rather, that each individual performs his OCD in a unique combination of ways. They merely manifest in common vectors. My relative has a diagnosed OCD that doesn't fit into a category, and I believe Chris McCandless probably had an undiagnosed OCD that descended upon him repeatedly, uncontrollably and made a rational person do irrational things.

Krakauer's investigative prowess is superior. The author, in fact, claims he was obsessed with this story because he, too, shared a similar 'obsession' to retreat to the woods. So, Krakauer has done his homework. He arrives at what possibly could be the real physiological reason why McCandless died, and I agree. Krakauer also provides a detailed personal profile kluged together after doggedly uncovering people who interacted with McCandless in the period before he crossed the Rubicon. However, although the author tinkers with the psychological reasons why McCandless may have behaved the way he did, he ultimately leaves the final analysis undecided. Into the Wild was written for you, the reader, to supply that analysis.

McCandless was not a social misfit, a 'green' anarchist, a criminal, a Virgina Tech “shooter.” He was completely normal, with what appeared to be a common level of vexation against his parents and angst with society. However, his acute withdrawal into the woods without a rational mix of gear and ration occurred with enough regularity that it seemed to be ritualistic with him. Indeed, the author describes these repeated withdrawals as a kind of vision quest, a catharsis, a cleansing. But what psychology explains a recurring, irrational, overpowering urge performed by an otherwise normal person? An obsessive compulsive disorder.

I'd like to launch into a lengthy comparison of Scott McCandless and my relative, but—in jeopardy to my thesis—that will remain with me. Just read the book, and keep OCD in mind, and see if you feel the same way.

New words: cordillera, contumacious, lumpen, eremitic, desideratum, serac, coppice.

I award 4 stars for a well-paced, well-presented, investigative journey with a language that was engaging and highly readable. It could have earned the 5th star, but there were absolutely no maps, sketches, pictures, or images of a story that certainly warranted them.

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Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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Chris this book was like a train wreck i couldn't stop reading it even though it "bothered" me on many levels.
i got obsessed with McCandless and his compulsion to live in the wild. i like jon krakauer's take on this man's life. it could be any of us.


Jason Chris, I assume, because you posted here, you see my review as a possible perspective in the overall discussion of McCandless. On another thread, I had a gunslinger confrontation with some folks that could not conceive of his actions as anything other than pure stupidity. The brain is complex. There's millions of people with (mostly) hidden obsessions and, like you said, compulsions. I think McCandless did some foolish things and is ultimately responsible for his decision, but I think there's also a component of OCD. This guy was rational, smart, resourceful, but like a current, he was swept into situations as if he had no control. And to me, that means his brain was operating under a compulsion.

Hey, if you like Krakauer I've got another review http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

Jason


Synesthesia I liked this review. You seem less harsh on him than Diamond was. I would friend you if I were not so shy.


Synesthesia correction. It was a different review...Melinda's review. I liked the Diamond review.


Jason I'd friend you too if I wasn't on a 2 yr sabbatical (see my profile).

There was probably a day when I too would have been more harshly opinionated about Scott McCandless's actions, but deriding a guy based on incomplete flashes of his life seems to be a very modern American habit. But I'm also not the kind of person that supports an award for a child's tenth place finish. People make bad decisions and come in last. I think lambasting someone's bad decisions is an undercover way to praise our own. I was friends with guys like Scott in college, and they weren't all nitwits.

Here's a good book about your avatar name, synesthesia. http://goo.gl/Jwf3Y


Synesthesia ooo. Sounds Ideal. Oliver Sacks is so cool too.


Mycroft First, I found your approach interesting, but, with all due respect, I'm not convinced. To further the discussion, I'm pointing out why.

OCD involves small acts, ones we almost don't notice ourselves doing, like locking the door or washing our hands. These are virtually insignificant acts with little consequence and are often done almost automatically by both those with OCD and those without. McCandless, on the other hand, was highly focused what he was doing and he blew the importance vastly out of scale. That just seems like a very different phenomenon.

For much of his travels, McCandless was a drifter - about as far from obsessive as one can get. He went places because he had a ride. He ate because someone gave him food. He stayed in a bus because it was there. He was focused, on the other hand, on 'the wild' and on avoiding people, both of which require attention and focus in a way that handwashing or door locking don't.

I know when I've find out about a disorder or spent a lot of time around it, I suddenly start seeing it everywhere and sometimes see it as explaining more than it really explains and you may be dong this. But I could be wrong...


Gretchen I don't think so. If we're talking mental illness, he struck me as someone who might possibly be bipolar.


message 9: by Lara (new)

Lara Just wanted to say, although I'm not much of an Internet poster, that I think you are so right with your analysis. My father had full- blown, undiagnosed OCD when I was a child - I learned as soon as I could walk that you never touch an item that belongs to him. When I heard about the Into the Wild story, I was compelled by it not as something inexplicable, but as something that seemed so natural and familiar, although I didn't my finger on why. Now I've got it.


Mycroft Lara, how do you relate the 'don't touch my stuff' that your father had (which could be many things other than OCD including just not liking children) with 'screw my loving family: I'm gonna go do something really dangerous without even pretending to try to take reasonable precautions against that danger'? They're just such dramatically different phenomenon, but the latter sounds nothing like OCD. What did your father have in common with McCandless?


Heidi Carter I completely disagree with your diagnoses of him. There are many, many mental disorders that could explain his "impulsive" behavior. Perhaps looking into Bipolar Disorder, Type 1. would give more insight to irrational or impulsive behavior for you.

Anyway, I think that this boy was a very smart, clever, and wanted to leave the confined world where he felt trapped. I was amazed at how brave he was by living off of the land and exploring new "worlds". Amazed.

If he is guilty of anything it is being of sound mind and wanted to get out of the confines and smothering grip that society presents itself. If he was diagnosed with any disorder by the author or yourself, it is therefore incorrect.


message 12: by Cem/Lucky (new)

Cem/Lucky oh my dear, you are absolutely right. i love this book and Chris is just like me. I love his style of writing and thinking and it's wonderful to identify with this awesome guy. I thank you for your opinion and for me it's also a hero. His reaction of leaving his parents was the right one to found himself. Me and my boyfriend Frodo want to find us also and this book inspired us so much.


Synesthesia Uh, before you try to find you in the wilderness, do a lot of research.


Shelley Kresan I think you may mean Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder.


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