Wild, by Cheryl Strayed ★★
After being completely uninspired by the movie that was based on this book, I found this book at Half price books for quite cheap, and decided to see if the book was any better than the movie. There are definitely some notable differences between the movie and the book, and many of the questions that I had with the movie were answered in the book. Cheryl writes well, and it is an easy book to read at a fast pace, and yet catch everything she has to say.
In summary, the book is a brief story of her life up to the present, with a large focus on the 3-4 months it took her to hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. By “hike”, she also did a lot of hitch-hiking, skipping sections, and straying from the trail. Half of the book is not on the trail narrative, but the flight of thoughts as Cheryl recalled her past life leading up to her hike of the PCT. Essentially, she grew up in a highly dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father who was dumped by her mother and two siblings when she was 13 years old. She held a persistent love-hate attitude toward her father and mother, which was further exacerbated when her mother died at age 46 of ovarian cancer. Cheryl’s life went into a spiral from there, dumping a husband that loved her, engaging in sex with any asker, taking up mainline black tar heroin, killing her first baby, and then getting the wild idea of hiking a segment of the PCT.
Cheryl started her adventure without any preparation or hiking experience. Her personal determination pushed her through, in spite of her aches and pains. It was inspiring to see that she accomplished her goal in this book.
The serious problem I have with this book relates to the subtitle “From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail”. I noted a kid that was truly lost, but I never saw a moment where she actually “found” herself. Her seriously maladaptive behavior habits persisted through the end of the book, including fits of anger, willingness to do anything to be loved, unwillingness to give of herself for any friend or stranger, serious inability to manage her money and her time, inability to control her insatiable habit of escaping reality through drugs, alcohol, friends or personal torture, and inability to have an honest personal reflection on her own problems and the reasons that drove her to despair in the first place. She treated her siblings and parents (both biological and other) in a highly utilitarian fashion, and the entire book focused on Cheryl and herself, not Cheryl in a world to serve and show love to.
The entire significance of her partial hike of the PCT is shadowed by the fact that she doesn’t mention later attempting to actually do the whole trail from Mexico to Canada in a serious fashion, without hitchhiking half the way or bypassing large sections. Perhaps she has, but she doesn’t mention that in the book. Her inability to truly come face-to-face with herself in an honest fashion leaves me wondering why I would expect her new marriage, even though it also involves two children, will ultimately to be any better than her last, or any better than that of her mother and biological father. I wait pensively for the final outcome, or the outcome of her children who will also be trained to avoid reality. I am a touch mystified that the Pacific Crest Trail Association has made her a poster child, considering that she is anything but what one would consider an exemplary thru-hiker.
Or, did the PCTA choose Cheryl because perhaps she had a nice writing style that caught Oprah’s attention? I have yet to find a book that Oprah recommended that I would rate highly. Perhaps Oprah and I have polar opposite value systems? Is it that Oprah likes to see people that are caught in their own personal sewer in life? Does she like to think people who dishonestly air dirty linen without baring their true souls are admirable, those that blame their circumstances and never acknowledge their own guilt? Is it that Cheryl is a feminist, other values be damned? Is it that Cheryl would use her sexuality to play and control men, and yet when men responded to her flaunted sexuality she felt threatened? Doesn’t this fit the Oprah styled mindless group-think of our generation?
This is not the story of a lost child finding redemption, and I mean to be using redemption in a non-Christian or religious fashion, similar to Max finding redemption in the Freischutz opera, or Tannhäuser finding redemption in the opera after his name, or der Professor and Elizabeth finding redemption in Goethe’s Faust. We might witness a slightly more organized or purposeful Cheryl at the end of the story, we might have a Cheryl who has been able to calm the scream of demons from her past shouting in her head, but we don’t have a Cheryl that has become, taking the figurative language that Cheryl borrowed from John Newton, “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see”. Perhaps Cheryl needs to meet the Jesus of John Newton, and not the Jesus of the PCT?
Wild, by Cheryl Strayed ★★