Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Meg Reads: Wild - Book Review

WILD: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed is the powerfully honest memoir of a women who chooses, rather impulsively, to hike the Pacific Crest Trail; a challenging 2,650 mile trail that goes from Mexico to Canada. Wild is the story of a hike that, despite the incredible scenery, was not always pretty. Through the sweat, tears, scars, freezing snow and scorching heat, Cheryl hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in the shadow of her past: her mother's death, her marriage ending, and her family breaking apart. As she walks, she finds meaning in along the way, ending her journey a stronger person with a clearer vision of who she is and where she's going.
This was a novel I had been looking forward to reading for a long time. The first time I heard about it I was drawn to it, I think in part because it reminded me of Elizabeth Gilbert's similar journey of self-discovery in Eat, Pray, Love. Although they both have a similar feeling, they are vastly different books. As I started Wild, I was a little bit unsure about it; afraid that my high expectations would leave me disappointed. I have to say I very much enjoyed her story and her honest, raw way of telling it.

One of the things I loved the most were her descriptions of the characters she met on the trail. Honestly, I was ready to start getting my pack together as I read the book because I wanted to meet people as charismatic, interesting, and open-hearted as those PCT-hikers. The sense of community in the story was really wonderful: I loved how the hikers embraced each other immediately and had these powerful connections because they were all doing the same thing. Hiking the trail sounds like the start of a lifelong bond to me. 

I do wish that there was more specific detail on how the Pacific Crest Trail specifically affected her and how she carried on with her life afterwards. Yes, I imagine it changed her deeply, allowing her to let go of the hold her mother's death and her family breakup had on her, changing her into a stronger and more independent person, but Strayed has a such a flavour to her writing that I would have loved to hear more from her directly. In other words, the story ended too soon. Perhaps, it is only the beginning of the memoirs from Strayed though, not unlike Elizabeth Gilbert who proceeded to write Committed: A Love Story, which takes place after Eat, Pray, Love ends.

Some items of note about Wild's reception. Some people have reportedly been offended by the language of the book. Personally, I wasn't. In fact, I hardly noticed the intermittent swearing that accompanied the story. So beware if you are sensitive about strong language! Some people have also criticized Strayed for numerous things she admits in the book, including her thoughtless preparation for backing-packing the trail. While I agree that in some aspects Cheryl was completely unprepared for the strenuous hike she took (Yes, she should have taken practice hikes. Yes, she should have tested her backpack out before the first day of her trip. I could go on...), but I do believe she attempted to prepare, despite her romanticized idea of what the trail would be like. She had read the guide manual many times, she calculated and planned out her stops and provisions, she had the camping knowledge and tools she would need on her hike. I believe she was more prepared than even she thought becuase of her ability to adapt to the changing circumstances, with is desperately needed on such a challenging solo hike. Besides, like Cheryl said in her book with regard to money: if she had waited until she had "enough" money, she probably would have never done the trail. I am a firm believer in the sentiment that if you wait until you are perfectly prepared, you may never do the thing  you want to do because we are never perfectly prepared for anything. The same applies to Cheryl, if she had waited until she was perfectly prepared on paper, she may have waited an eternity. Sometimes you just have to go out there and do it, no matter how stupid people are going to say you are. Besides, accidents and misfortune happen to even the best prepared and skilled people: there is no avoiding it!

Secondly, Cheryl has also been criticized for what some consider her poor life choices, including her ongoing grief for her mother, her adultery, her heroin use, and her love of sex. At these I scoff and will tackle them one by one as I consider them righteously unfair. To criticize someone's grief I think is a bit callous; people grieve in different ways and for Cheryl the loss of her mother was not just the loss of someone who has always been there for her, but someone who was the glue that held her family together: without their mother there, Cheryl's family essentially disintegrated, leaving Cheryl completely alone. To her adultery and her heroin use, I also try not to make judgements about people who have followed a different path than I have, and while I don't condone what she did, I find it understandable in a time of grief and confusion to do things that would normally be out of character in order to make yourself feel better, if only temporarily. Lastly, I find it extremely sad that people are even commenting on her love of sex and men as a negative thing... I feel that if this was written by a man, there is no way this would have been made into an issue. Wanting to have sex and to feel a connection with another person is natural and normal, for men and women. How Cheryl dealt with those feelings is her personal business and it's part of her story. I appreciated Cheryl's realistic description, not only of the trials of the Pacific Crest Trail, but of her personal life. There are times in the novel where I felt Cheryl was personally conversing with me, a sign of a touching and talented writer.

Last, but not least... You've probably heard that Wild is being made into a movie starring the lovely Reese Witherspoon. I can't wait to see it, though I hope it is not another Eat, Pray, Love where the movie does not live up to my expectations.

Image Courtesy of Huffington Post

You can find more pictures of the progress of the move on Reese's Twitter!

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  1. I loved WILD and love this review. I read a lot of memoirs and this was certainly near the top of those I loved most. Can't wait to watch the movie. xox

    1. I can't wait to see the movie either- would love to hear your thoughts when you do see it!
      & I hope it lives up to both our expectations!


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