Thursday, September 20, 2012

WILD by Cheryl Strayed


After the death of her mother, a young woman hikes the Pacific Crest Trail alone in search of healing.


The latest travel memoir everyone's talking about follows the 1995 journey of a young woman who feels like she has lost everything. Her mother dies after a shockingly brief battle with cancer, and in the aftermath Cheryl's young marriage crumbles, she makes a series of terrible choices, and her siblings scatter. Left raw and lonely after her divorce, Cheryl sets out to hike from the bottom of California to the top of Oregon alone. Along the way, she tests her body to its very limits and finds peace and healing in the wilderness. She has a self-destructive streak which I found very frustrating, but she is brutally honest about her shortcomings.

Cheryl meets other hikers along the way, but the trail is new and empty enough that she sometimes travels for days entirely alone. She encounters everything from desert heat to snow to lack of water to ill-fitting shoes. The book is full of lyrical descriptions of the emotions Cheryl experiences through these hardships, but not enough about the beautiful, wild parts of the West. I read this book while in Oregon this summer, and it did make me want to wander around in the woods outside my grandparents' house, but it did not make me want to take a trip like Cheryl's.

Cheryl's journey is interspersed with vivid flashbacks, making this more a story of grief than of hiking. On one hand, I appreciated the powerful, personal nature of this story. However, the moments when she stopped to consider some vista and revisit a scene from her past seemed contrived at times. It was apparent that this story was written many years after the journey, and a lot of the actual moments had to be recreated. Even so, the emotions were very real. The prose delved into each feeling, unafraid to linger on the pain, guilt and hope.



$12.99 for the Kindle edition


How do you feel about memoirs that are written long after the experience vs. when the memories are still fresh? Do you think perspective and depth are more valuable than raw immediacy?


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