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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