Michael's Reviews > Into the Wild

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
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May 08, 10

bookshelves: lost

1993, Social Studies in High School, a friend of mine was reading this essay in Outside magazine, while the teacher droned on about recent happenings in the world. To most Midwestern kids, Outside magazine is a staple of the higher-class, traveling yuppies who spend money in tourist traps and wear hiking boots to the mall. Most kids at the age of eighteen are starting to realize the importance of food, clothing and shelter; my school was and is to this day, no different. A lot of my classmates from that graduating class of 600 students, never continued their education to a secondary level, were hired at a nearby factory, bought fishing boats, deer rifles, baby clothes, houses and settled down. End of story.
I'm thirty-five now, have completed two college degrees, have changed occupations and careers more than I'd like to admit, have chased elusive dreams to Europe, Alaska and both sides of the American continent- I've watched those friends of mine who never continued their education become adults, with children of their own, with houses, careers, cars, boats, lifetimes of experience that I'll never know and most importantly, happiness. The thing that stops me, in the midst of remembering where we all came from, and why I never quite appreciate their achievement, is their quality of life. Reader, do me a favor, hold that thought.
Seventeen years ago, I borrowed that copy of Outside magazine, and read the article about Christopher McCandless, (Alexander Supertramp), written by John Krakauer. The story, as an article, was short and sweet, went straight to the heart of a mystery and had subtlety. McCandless was young, idealistic, strong, uncontained, exploratory, gentle and insecure. After reading the article, my opinions on a couple of things changed, almost immediately; I questioned whether my goals were realistic or just self-absorbed fantasy, I suddenly began to think about diet, as an athlete, I started to question my own intentions towards my teammates...it got sort of absurd, really.
The novel, Into the Wild, came out a few years after that, and I didn't read it for a couple of years. Not out of boredom with the topic, the article had explained enough to me about a character type, or an individual, who I may or may never know in reality; a person like Christopher McCandless, who could so easily throw away money, intelligence, self-worth and the very thing which he admired, freedom, as a statement for posterity, did not interest me.
Eventually, I got around to reading the book, and became amazed at Krakauer's ability, (or his editor's ability) to magnify the details of his original article. It is a testament to the writer's ability to expand his original concept past an interesting article and into a well written exercise in narcissism- to be half in love with an easeful death, as it was explained to me at one time. Krakauer first establishes McCandless's need for expansion and individuality, but also creates the stigma which chases his subject throughout the novel; McCandless may be an exceptional runner, but he insists on leading the rest of his team on his own routes; McCandless may explore the Colorado river, but he eventually needs to be rescued and barely survives the ordeal. Much of what motivates McCandless, Krakauer hints at, is a need to be an icon, regardless of the consequences.
The novel runs its course, and we find, at the end, McCandless's naivety becomes his undoing, having misread a guide, having misjudged a river, having never learned to cure meat, having the desire but not the patience to learn...all of these things point to a brash and youthful strength that inevitably leads to tragedy. I love the writing that Krakauer is capable of, the clinical detail of starvation, the wandering spirit of youth, so much of what he writes has driven his own quest for something profound, something young, something lost. Ironically, the whole story eventually leads me to feeling alone, as if I had known somebody just like Christopher McCandless, but never heard his story.

Should be read with-

My Side of the Mountain; Good Morning Midnight; the Climb, Tragic Ambitions on Everest; Eiger Dreams; The Tao of Pooh; A River Runs Through it.
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