I first came across Wild when I saw Reese Witherspoon carrying a copy around and some weeks later she posted a picture of the book saying it was “My favourite new book” just to buy the rights and become producer (and possibly main star) to the movie adaptation. The buzz continued as I saw it advertised in many online bookstores and, finally, last week Leah said she was reading it… and I decided to join. I must admit I had my doubts when I started it, having hated Eat, Pray, Love and wondering what it is so especial about leaving everything to “discover yourself”.
The following review contains some spoilers.
A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe–and built her back up again. At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State–and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone. Strayed faces down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and loneliness of the trail. Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, “Wild “vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.
I have many times heard of dislocation as a way to explore and challenge one’s values, limits and ideas. Whether this is true or not, I don’t know, I never experienced it, but I can see it is becoming fashionable. Although I partly agree that finding yourself completely alone in an unknown place and without your beloved ones can be challenging, I believe that human beings adapt to their environment. That is, I do not think we discover ourselves in new environments, we simply discover new facets to the person we are: it is like turning around a faceted diamond. There are many faces, you just have to be willing to move it and see them. This is one of the main reasons why I hated Eat, Pray, Love, apart from the constant whining and the topics that only Italians enjoy life and only in India will you find a religious truth.
Having said this, Wild presented itself more like a physical challenge than Cheryl’s desire to escape her life, although I think she had to escape it to avoid becoming a heroin addict dating another heroin addict and constantly playing with Paul, her ex-husband. Her journey was definitely challenging and she got to discover both her physical and psychological strength by testing them and her survival instincts all through the hike. All the tiredness and her focus on moving forward were definitely a distraction to the million problems she already had: drugs, a divorce, a broken family, the death of her mother. However, I kept asking myself: “don’t do other people go through the same without escaping for a whole summer?” Don’t get me wrong, I was happy that Cheryl got away from all her troubles, but there was something in her narrative that made her sound especial, and not in a good way. Also, as Leah noted, she kept insisting that everyone could do what she did, even without previous training and almost relying on the kindness of strangers. I am sorry Cheryl, but things are not like that. Most people (me!) cannot leave their lives to go hiking for a whole summer in the wilderness: first of all because we have lives and secondly and most importantly, because you were 90% lucky and 10% skilled. She also felt that everyone owed her some kind of kindness because she was hiking the PCT in really bad conditions, for example she was angry that the owners of a camping do not allow her to stay there without paying, even when there was no one camped. I may be being too cold, but why should they? If they allowed her, they would have to allow other campers as well! It was due to this behavior, that luckily is not present in every chapter, that I felt Cheryl needed to grow up… soon.
So, when I started pondering the book, a big problem appeared: I knew I wanted to give it three stars out of five (mentally) but I found myself struggling to justify them. All the hiking and the fact that, by the end of the book, Cheryl had really learned things that she should already know made me consider the book in a more positive light, but at the same time these thoughts came to me:
- She hiked part of the PCT… BUT she gave everything up instead of facing her problems.
- She lost her mother… BUT many people do and do not cheat on their partners or start a journey to discover themselves.
- She did drugs and needed to get away from them, it was the 1990’s after all… yes BUT most of my family where Cheryl’s age during the 1990’s and they did not do drugs. Her fault.
- She was almost broke and could not afford food… BUT so where many other hikers and they did not expect an especial treatment for their very own lack of money. Why should she be different?
- She missed her mom… yes BUT as much as to swallow the bones remaining from her cremation. REALLY????
- And don’t get me started on her stupid decision to sacrifice the horse themselves because they did not have money. It was not the poor horse’s fault. I’m sorry I cannot stand people who have animals but then cannot afford their care, even to put them down. They are your responsibility and you owe them some dignity.
Basically, those were my thoughts. I liked and I hated Cheryl at the same time. I admired her for hiking 1,100 miles and, at the same time, resented that she left her husband and ran away from her problems to find herself. All she needed was to stay away from the drugs and to focus on something rather than to linger on how she missed her mom and what a bad wife she was.
This is why I give the book three stars out of five. It was a fun, summer reading and I am happy that Cheryl managed to start a new life.
You can read Leah’s review (sans spoilers) here.
You can read an interview with the author dealing with the issues I had with the book, here.