"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.
Laaaaurrrrraaaaa, this review is so wonderful. You're making me feel like this might be another one of those life-changing books that I need to read, just at this moment when things are a bit iffy and my future is all wonky and I'm not feeling too good about stuff. And if it throws in a damn good side of walking and challenging the self and an amazing place to armchair travel through, then so much the better. This is all a really weird way to say, I LOVE THIS REVIEW, and I'm so glad you loved the book, and I'm definitely going to need to read it now that you and Bex have both adored it, so... yeah. Go you! :DReplyDelete
Hahahaha, GO ME indeed! Off to hike around America now, see ya! ;) But yesssss, read it! It's SO good. And not just, like, inspiration-wise, but writing wise too! *drools a bit* *feels gross*Delete
Fantastic review of a fantastic book! :) I really, REALLY need to read Tiny Beautiful Things. Really!ReplyDelete
Awww, thank you! I've just started Tiny Beautiful Things and it's GORGEOUS. Like, really. And I want to cry at all of it, but that's just the nature of it, really!Delete
This is an excellent review and I may check out this book based on your enthusiasm alone. Because the plot of the book is not really making me do backflips, but I don't know the Dear Sugar column. Maybe reading some of that is a good first step.ReplyDelete
Awww, thank you! I truly feel like, even if the plot doesn't necessarily do things for you, then the *writing* will, and then you'll like the memoirness and walking complaints anyway, BUT I understand that not everyone is a fan of the kind of (awesome) writing Strayed does. SO I do believe that reading some Dear Sugar columns is a really good idea, because that's what she sounds like in Wild, pretty much.Delete
The stunt memoir thing is a bit annoying, yeah. But I feel like if you're THIS into it, it has to be checked out. Even with our differing views on basically every book ever.ReplyDelete
I think I like stunt memoirs though! Or, at least, stunt memoirs of things that I could conceivably do and that could Change My Life Forever. (so... This and Julie and Julia, basically. I can walk and cook!) But seriously, yeah, I loved this. SUCH GOOD WRITING, ALICE! (You will probably hate it. I can see it coming already.)Delete
Okay, DO WANT. *putters off to put on my to-read list*ReplyDelete
I haven't ever read the Dear Sugar column, but I did just read Amanda's awesome review of it, so I will find that one eventually, too.
Also, my favorite advice columnist is Caity Weaver of Thatz Not Okay: http://gawker.com/tag/thatz-not-okay.
I just picked this up a few weeks ago and haven't gotten to it quite yet... I'll have to prioritize it now after your stellar review! Thanks :)ReplyDelete
I love Cheryl too and read this book in just a few days after I got it for Christmas. But I have to disagree that this is a stunt memoir. I think of stunt memoirs as more of setting out to do something for the specific point of writing a book (i.e. the Happiness Project).ReplyDelete
Cheryl hiked the trail a long time ago for personal reasons, not to write a book about it. Maybe that's why I gobbled this book up with a spoon while I have a hard time reading about projects that are specifically done so the author can write about them.
Hi, I just noticed this review and wondered if you would like to link it in to the current monthly collection of books that people loved on Carole's Chatter. This is the link There are already over 25 books linked in that you might be interested in. It would be great if you came on over. CheersReplyDelete
This book is a memoir of her trip and the catharsis that took place during those 6 weeks alone in the woods. There is some mention of wildlife sightings, uncomfortable weather, improperly fitted footwear, and a too-heavily loaded backpack affectionately nicknamed "Monster," but mostly this book chronicles the authors emotions and struggles as she comes to grips with the loss of her mother and marriage.ReplyDelete
I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading female centered slice-of-life style memoirs!
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