Monthly Archives: September 2015

Wild – Cheryl Strayed

IMG_2563Summary (Amazon): 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. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and she would do it alone. Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

My Review (Spoilers!!)

Executive Summary:  sad

I started this book 3 months ago. I borrowed the electronic copy from the library and it had approximately 368,274 holds on it. Of course when my name came up in the list, it was the weekend that I was moving houses, and I did not get it finished before it went back to position number 368,275 on the list! I recently acquired it again, and this time, I finished it! I wish I could say it was worth it.

I thought this book was miserable, and I know I’m greatly in the minority. While I thought it was a decent story, I thought it was crippled by it as well. I thought I was going to be reading a story about a strong, independent woman overcoming adversity and grabbing life by the horns along the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail). Instead, what I got was a story about someone fully unable to grow up, deal with life and the grief that comes with it who decides that the way to solve this problem is to hike the PCT despite having never hiked before and doing approximately 0 research in preparation.

I partly liked but also partly disliked the telling of the story–the “present” story of hiking the trail is intertwined with stories from the past. It does help the story flow a little better, but it feels almost as though Cheryl spends no time reflecting in the woods.

Cheryl Strayed is the author of this autobiographical book, and she was 22 in 1991 when her mother passed away from lung cancer. Strayed grew up especially poor, with her mother, stepfather, brother and sister. They lived in extreme rural Minnesota in a home they built themselves. When her mother died, Strayed’s world dissolved. She isolated herself from her family and her husband (who in fairness, and I am not a proponent for young marriage, seemed like the best person). She murders her mother’s horse because she couldn’t really be bothered and was in such grief. (This is 3 years after her mother dies). I’m not sure what the point of this part of the story was, but it came off really psychopathic. And I did grow up in the country and I understand putting animals to sleep. I don’t understand having absolutely no emotion about the animal that your mother loved most.

Strayed then moves to Oregon and gets involved in drugs and the people who use them. Particularly a guy named Joe who she can’t seem to break free from. Her friend Lisa calls her still-husband Paul to try to have him convince Cheryl to get it together, but it is basically completely unsuccessful. He takes her back to Minnesota but she still somehow continues to see Joe and use drugs. And then she finds out that she is pregnant. It’s at this point when she decides that she is going to get an abortion that she also decides that she should hike the PCT. The abortion is so glazed over in this book that it’s like it never happened. And maybe that’s honest. But it seems like the sentence “I got an abortion and learned how to make dehydrated tuna flakes and turkey jerky…” should never go together.

So Strayed decides to pull herself out of her self-made terrible life by divorcing her husband and hiking the PCT. It’s 1995. I remember the Internet in 1995. I was a freshman in high school. It was an email machine, and barely more. However, Strayed doesn’t even seem to try. She overpacks, underplans, and is quite frankly very lucky that she did not end up dead. She tries to sleep with every man she encounters on the trail which doesn’t seem like very great self-reflection. When she finally gets to Oregon, very near to the end of the trail, she does drugs with a man in a van and then goes off to a compound to have sex with a stranger.

At the end of the trail, she eats an ice cream cone, talks to a man in a BMW and then is suddenly “cured” of all her grief and bad ways. Um?

Verdict: 3 stars

I just could not get into this book at all. I really disliked the main character the entire time for being such a heartless megalomaniacal idiot. When she wasn’t nearly dying, she was too busy trying to get laid that she couldn’t see the rattlesnake in front of her. And then she was nearly dying again. It was just such a depressing “woe is me” story that it really overwhelmed any story about hiking. I thought the ending was telling as it didn’t actually say what happened to her. It jumped years and years into the future to say that she was OK and go into a few of the other people she met on the trail. But it suggests to me that she didn’t actually get what she needed out of her journey, and she wasn’t “cured” at the end of it. That it took many more years to get to where she needed.

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Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell

  Summary (Amazon): Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits-smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love-and just how hard it pulled you under.

My Review (Spoilers!!)

Executive Summary: satisfying

This is our book-into-movie book for the year, but unfortunately, the movie won’t be coming out until next year, so no review on it anytime soon. I am curious how they will make a movie about it.

I liked the book, don’t get me wrong, but there wasn’t a lot to it. Eleanor is the new-kid-in-town after she spent the previous year kicked out of home from her family (mom, stepdad, younger siblings). Her stepdad is emotionally and physically abusive and kicked her out. For unclear reasons, she was allowed to return although she obviously doesn’t like being there because of her stepdad. On top of that, her family is very poor and all share a bedroom with very little to eat and no extravagances.

She gets onto the bus and has nowhere to sit as the hierarchy and politics of a school bus are similar to that of a small corrupt nation. As she is walking back the aisle, she’s getting the dreaded brush off from everyone until she finally gets to Park who scoots over to let her sit. He doesn’t know why he does it. Eleanor is big with wild red hair and dresses strangely so he knows that it is a social misstep to allow this, but for some reason he does it anyway. Park has a Korean mother and a white (Irish) military father. His parents are middle class, although it is socially difficult for him to be the only non-white person at his school in Nebraska. He has worked hard for what little social status he has, but for whatever reason, he still lets her sit with him.

Park continues to let Eleanor sit with him on the bus, and he eventually notices her reading his comics with him so he loans some to her. It progresses a little further and he starts loaning her mix tapes (and the tape player) to go along with them to listen to.  And then they realize that they are in love so the story progresses into a full fledged awkwardness of trying to hang out outside of school and lying to parents and drivers’ tests. The awkwardness is of course exacerbated mostly by Eleanor who looks differently and therefore gets picked on. Someone is writing lewd notes on her textbooks, and she also has an incident of someone flushing her clothes in the toilet at gym class. She’s nicknamed Big Red which is obviously embarrassing. She also doesn’t have a telephone and isn’t allowed really to ever leave her house but she gets around it by saying she’s at her friend’s house.

Eleanor eventually comes home too late to find that her stepdad has figured out what has been going on. He found the stash of make up, comics, and other things that she has gotten from Park and his family, and is in a drunken rage. Eleanor slips out of the window because she is sure he will kill her. Her mom previously had told her that her uncle would like her to come to stay with him for the summer, but she had told him no because she wanted to spend time with Park. But she realizes that her only option is her family in Minneapolis. Park talks to his parents and they allow him to drive her to Minneapolis. When they arrive, she doesn’t want him to stay with her, not even until they know whether her family will accept her, so he turns around and drives back to Nebraska. Her family does allow her to stay, but Park doesn’t know this. She doesn’t call. She doesn’t answer his many letters. Until it’s almost too late. She sends Park a postcard with 3 little words…

Verdict: 3.5 stars

Honestly writing this blog definitely puts some books into perspective for me. When I finished this book, I liked it. I had had a feeling throughout the entire story that something bad was going to happen to Eleanor (a la Allegiant), but in the end, everything turned out OK. I did feel like the book was missing a LOT of the 80s feel, and maybe that was intentional. (I guess only in the 80s or earlier would parents have allowed their newly licensed 16 year old kid to drive out of state alone in a manual transmission vehicle.) Anyway, but as I continued to piece together my thoughts for writing up the synopsis, I realized that I wanted the book to stretch a little deeper. Unfortunately I never felt the love story was very realistic, and I was actually a little disappointed with the ending (yes, I said I liked the ending but I just didn’t want Eleanor to die). I felt that having them both move on would be a little more realistic and add a bit of depth to the story. Maybe that’s just me.

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Filed under 3.5 stars, Book Club, Book Review