Every Fourth Friday of a month I will post a book review. Sometimes it will be a book I read years ago, other times I will have just turned the last page of the novel and feel like writing a review about it.
Last month my review was about a novel that involved hiking – this month it will be hiking again, but a nonfiction book. Why so much hiking? Because it’s hot, hot, hot where I live right now, and sometimes it was hot, hot, hot in these books on the hiking trips.
I’m also about to go on vacation – driving 19 hours one way – with my mother-in-law Jane. That made me think about good books to read while driving, and about going on trips, and about my mother-in-law, Jane. What? Ha! I got to thinking about Jane because I recommend this month’s book to her after I first read it five years ago. She immediately read it—and loved it just as much as I did. I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads, which means “It was amazing.”
WILD by Cheryl Strayed
The memoir WILD by Cheryl Strayed is heartbreaking and inspiring. The author’s writing is poetic and profound, and at other moments no-holds-barred frank and then even at turns educational, demonstrating Strayed possesses a writer’s voice that is unique, refreshing and outright exquisite.
This story chronicles the author’s hiking excursion—all 1,100 miles of it—along the Pacific Crest Trail, known as the “PCT.” This is a path that goes from the Mexico/California border all the way up to just past the Canadian border, and the trail crosses through numerous mountain ranges.
At the age of 26, Strayed resolved to hike the PCT without taking along a hiking partner and with a goal of finishing the trip in around 100 days—even though the amount of experience she had with overnight backpacking was … zilch.
Strayed herself called this an “arguably unreasonable decision.” It came after a series of emotionally devastating events that caused the author to react with destructive behavior. The inciting occurrence was four years prior when her mom died at a young age from cancer, which then led to the unraveling relationship between herself and the remaining family members, and the beginning of the end of her marriage. Strayed’s feelings of deep pain and emptiness drove her to sleep around—with several men and while she was married. One of the lovers introduced her to shooting heroin and also impregnated her; the outcome of that was an elective abortion.
The author believed trekking solo through “the wild” on the Pacific Crest Trail would be a way to “save” her.
The “pre-PCT” upheavals are introduced at the beginning of the memoir to show the reasoning behind the “why” of the hike, and they are explored further in various chapters via short flashback scenes or sometimes by just one or two sentences. Memories of these loved ones and incidents would be triggered when the author would come to a particular spot on the trail, either one of surreal serenity and beauty, or a destination that had required an extra-super physical challenge to get there. Strayed would then endure the heartache, anger and regret from the previous years all over again, but she would also at times arrive at an “Ah-ha!” moment of understanding and acceptance about her life—which in the end did indeed lead to the author’s “saving” as she had hoped.
Some of the passages in WILD that hit home on the author’s discoveries during her hike or that highlight Strayed’s fantastic writer’s voice are:
“He broke her nose. He broke her dishes. … But he didn’t break her.”
“The loss of my family and home were my own private clear-cut. What remained was only ugly evidence of a thing that was no more.”
“He hadn’t loved me well in the end, but he’d loved me well when it mattered.”
“Now my backpack had a name: Monster. … I was amazed that what I needed to survive could be carried on my back. And, most surprising of all, that I could carry it. That I could bear the unbearable. These realizations about my physical, material life couldn’t help but spill over into the emotional and spiritual realm. That my complicated life could be made so simple was astounding.”
“I went to the river and squatted down and splashed my face. … Where was my mother? I wondered. I’d carried her so long, staggering beneath her weight. On the other side of the river, I let myself think. And something inside of me released.”
“Another toenail looked like it was finally going to come off. I gave it a gentle tug and it was in my hand, my sixth. I had only four intact toenails left. The PCT and I weren’t tied anymore. The score was 4-6, advantage trail.”
Strayed’s memoir WILD is a book I’m definitely wild about and one that I will encourage all my friends and family to read. Her writing style is truly wonderful, and I eagerly look forward to enjoying her novel TORCH.