All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

on March 18, 2015

WildWild
Cheryl Strayed
Atlantic Books
2012, 311p
Read from my local library

When Cheryl was just 22, she lost her mother Bobbi to lung cancer after a very short battle. This had a profound impact on her and over the next few years, her life would slowly implode. She ruined her marriage, divorcing a man she loved and who loved her after straying repeatedly. She made bad choices, culminating in heroin, something that her then ex-husband attempted to rescue her from. On a whim, she decided to walk the Pacific Crest trail, hiking eleven hundred miles from southern California, through Oregon and into Washington State. She also was going to do it on her own.

In Wild, her memoir, Stayed documents her time on the trail – the people she met along the way, the conditions, the trials and tribulations she faced hiking such a long distance alone and at a young age without much in the way of support. She would rely on boxes of supplies mailed to certain check points by a friend of hers and had to align her progress with the time that the packages would arrive. Each package would also contain $20, all the money she would have until she reached the next checkpoint. In her time on the trail, Cheryl would finally be able to take the time she needed to grieve for her mother and heal the self-destructive tendencies she’d taken on since her death.

I have to admit, I had no interest in reading this until I read that Reese Witherspoon was going to be starring in the film adaptation. I love her – she’s one of my favourites and anything she’s in, I like to watch. She was nominated for a slew of awards (lost out all of them I think, to Julianne Moore in yet another adaptation, Still Alice which I’ve read) and so before seeing the movie, I thought I should probably read the book.

It kind of reminded me why I don’t read memoirs much – so many of them seem self-indulgent and this one is at times, no exception. I haven’t lost a parent so I can’t really understand how Cheryl might have felt about the loss of her mother. It clearly had a significant and devastating impact on her and I guess there’s no telling how people might react to that sort of tragedy. However I honestly found Cheryl mostly irritating during this time frame – she’s married to a (seemingly) amazing man, who is understanding, tolerant, kind, caring and must love her. And she basically shits all over that, sleeping with a string of random guys whilst staying with a friend. Even after she confesses her infidelities and they separate, her now ex-husband continues to be a friend and pillar of support for her, even driving halfway across the country to Oregon to pull her out of a cycle of heroin use. If he really is as good as he’s portrayed in this, the guy is an absolute saint – and probably far better off after they divorced.

What I was really keen to read was the trail itself and I did find that part of the book pretty interesting. She seems pretty unprepared for the hike – she does no training beforehand, her pack weighs more than she does and her progress is much slower than she expects. However she does keep at it. Even after her toenails begin to fall off, after the skin on her hips rubs away so much it grows back thicker, like a lizard skin, after a few frightening situations on the trail, she keeps on at it. I didn’t like her much, but I found that admirable. It’s not something I’d do. I’m woman enough to admit that I’d be way too scared to attempt something like that alone even if I was the sort who didn’t mind camping. I’m not a camping person and the idea of not having running hot water and a flushing toilet for basically months, gives me the cold shivers. But even if I could cope with all that, I wouldn’t want to be out there alone for months at a time, basically in the forest.

Strayed does meet other hikers and plenty of them and she enjoys her rendezvous with them at various “break” spots along the way where they regroup and relax before tackling the next stage. However she almost always chooses to hike the stages alone, instead of teaming up with others and will sometimes delay her departure or deliberately hang back in order to be alone. She does seem to have a bit of a preoccupation with sex, even whilst on the hike. She takes a box of condoms with her in her pack which, at the first rest spot a fellow camper tosses when he streamlines her pack. Despite not showering for probably weeks at a time, or being able to wash her clothes, hiking for up to 19 miles a day for weeks on feet that can barely walk, there seems plenty of time to think about sex and who she might use the one condom she pilfered back with. Her attitudes and mine didn’t really align – I abhor cheating and find it inexcusable and it seemed as though the hike was supposed to be healing her of her want to indulge in destructive behaviour but it seemed as though she had a hard time letting some of the bad habits go.

I really enjoyed the book when I was reading about Cheryl’s time on the trail – thankfully that’s quite a portion of it- but I have to admit, my interest waned a lot when she was talking about her time before undergoing the hike, apart from the time during which her mother was dying. I’d have also liked a little more after her completion of the hike. The book does seem to end pretty abruptly when she finishes her journey and I know it was about completing it but I would’ve liked a bigger and more detailed exploration of what she came to realise and how it affected her mental outlook on life.

7/10

Book #55 of 2015

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2 responses to “Review: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

  1. Fiona says:

    I love your review. It sums up almost exactly how I felt about this book also, including the part about Reese Witherspoon (she is also a favourite of mine). My feelings were really mixed about this book, because I really enjoyed reading it but I was really disappointed with the ending. It was quite different to what I expected.

  2. curlygeek04 says:

    I really enjoyed this book, especially the parts on the trail. I didn’t have a problem with Strayed’s cheating, drug use, etc. but I do think the book was more compelling when it was about the hiking itself. Still, I love the idea of remaking yourself by doing something really physically challenging – which I’ve never done. I too would have liked more reflection at the end on how it impacted her life.

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