"I didn't feel sad or happy. I didn't feel proud or ashamed. I only felt that in spite of all the things I'd done wrong, in getting myself here, I'd done right."
I have been a tiny bit in love with Cheryl Strayed since before I even knew her name. Her previously anonymous Dear Sugar columns are so wonderful that they can SHATTER me and make me cry and then make me laugh and feel better in the space of about a paragraph, and even if her advice has absolutely no direct bearing on my life or problems, just reading one of her columns- any of them, really, makes me feel like she's helping me directly anyway. (I think it goes without saying that I'm going to read Tiny Beautiful Things- a collection of some of these columns- very very soon).
The point is, anyway, that I had ridiculously high expectations for Wild, both in terms of how I wanted it to be written, and what I wanted it to say. I wanted Dear Sugar, only better, and you know what? I got it. I loved this book beyond words, and so much that I had the really rare reaction (for me) of wanting to spread out reading it for as long as possible because I didn't want it to end. This involved renewing it at the library and all sorts of other obstacles (Actually... That was pretty much it) but the fact is, when Strayed finishes her epic journey in the book, ecstatic as I was for her, I was also kind of sad because there was no more book left to read. But I can't say that it didn't leave me with a lot, because, believe me, it really did.
'But Laura!' I hear you cry. 'What even IS this epic journey you're talking about? You haven't actually said anything about this book you know?' To which I say: Ah. Yes. You're right. Well. Wild is kind of two books in one- a memoir about her journey hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (or PCT) for 100 days in 1995, and also a memoir about the reasons behind her decision to do so- ostensibly the death of her mother 3 years previously, and the complete shitheap she'd made of her life ever since then. I feel like this going between the two sounds like it has the potential to be a hot mess, but somehow Strayed manages to avoid this entirely- when she segues away from the trail to think about her past, I was always ready for it, and I was always ready for her to go back to it, too. I don't know if this was just because I love her so much, or if it actually is that well done, but everything felt very smooth and, dare I say it, perfect.
The two intertwining stories (that are really just the same story) are pretty inseparable in the book, but I'm going to talk about them separately anyway. Parts of Strayed's experience of the PCT felt pleasingly familiar because I've read A Walk in the Woods, and the fact that I now have an opinion of the merits and challenges of the PCT vs the Appalachian Trail (AT) is both pleasing and ridiculous to me. Strayed really really made me feel like I was walking along with her, as her even- her every pain my pain, her horrendous feet issues MY horrendous feet issues. Every difficult and heavy and horrible step is now mine too, and I feel like this is incredible since Strayed basically wrote this thirteen years after her quest. It must have pretty much felt like she was walking alongside her former self while writing, so to make me feel like I was actually there... Wow. Seriously. Wow.
Much as I enjoyed the walking parts (and believe me, that was A LOT) I think I got more out of the flashbacks to the things that got her there. I can't say that I enjoyed them more, because that would be pretty messed up (to summarise: death, family breakdown, adultery, heroin, abortion, divorce... basically all the things you can imagine from someone's life imploding) but reading about those things and then getting to see Cheryl finally, crucially, letting them go is such a wonderful feeling that I can't even describe it. All I know is that it gives the book such a feeling of hope: that no matter how difficult things get, and they almost definitely will get very very difficult, you can always turn things around, do something that you absolutely didn't think you could do, and become the person you were supposed to be.
In Bex's review of this (which I have to credit with finally getting my butt down to the library to find Wild), she refers to it as a 'stunt memoir' which is a term I hadn't even heard before (I am out of all kinds of loops) but which I can absolutely identify as being A Thing that I really really enjoy in a book. I'm thinking of this, and Julie and Julia and... (I can't think of any more examples now, but I know I've read some others) I think I just really like the idea that, by doing something completely different to what you normally do, and by having a goal and really focusing on it, you can change your life, and not JUST by getting a book deal. I want to believe that it's possible for people to do things that they find challenging, and come out the other side... better. And with a clearer idea of how to make their lives, and themselves better. I want to be one of those people, if I'm honest, so... I just need a challenge now.
Basically, what I'm saying is, I was ridiculously predisposed to love this book, in all the possible ways. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't read it, because I truly believe that everyone could get something out of it. Even if it's just a desire to walk the PCT, or even just a blissful gratitude that you haven't decided to do that, that's still something, right? So yes. Read it please, but just be ready to feel like you've been on an epic journey too. It's worth it to feel like this about a book.