Sunday, July 21, 2013

Review: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

My first attempt to read Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail was unsuccessful. I saw it advertised last year as a woman’s memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and quickly put the book on hold at my library. I read a few pages and quit.

A year later, I decided to give Wild another shot. The author, Cheryl Strayed, was coming to speak at my library and I thought I would go. This time, I listened to the audio version read by Bernadette Dunne.

My overall impression of the book is disappointment that the story is not about Strayed hiking the PCT. The memoir jumps fully into Strayed’s grief over her mother’s death and explores its impact on her life. Her marriage disintegrates and she makes one poor choice after another. These chapters lagged for me but I stuck with it.

When Strayed does discuss hiking the PCT the memoir is a fun read. She writes with humor in these sections which offer relief to the heavy overarching themes of loss, grief and self-searching.

I had a difficult time relating to Strayed which made it a struggle for me to get through the book. We were both married and divorced at about the same age. We’re both Midwestern, too. But while I have things in common with Strayed I simply could not relate. Frequently, I found myself thinking “This is moment! She’s finally gonna get some cojones, take charge and stop depending on other people.” But alas, that moment was constantly postponed. Example: The horse scene, which many found disturbing, I found infuriating. I so wanted her to take the gun and do what needed to be done. But she passed the responsibility to another. I found myself frustrated with her attitude and dependency. I didn’t walk in her shoes so I wouldn’t judge her but it became tortuous for me to read about her mistakes as a young woman. She does begin to understand herself better after she hikes the PCT. She learns that while people need other people, there will be times when you need enough inner strength to carry on without them.

Strayed’s writing and her memories evoked strong emotions in me. If I’d had the physical book in hand I’ve no doubt I’d have thrown it several times. And I truly enjoyed the segments about her hiking experience as I recall laughing out loud. I did listen to Strayed speak at my library and she asked for hands of everyone who cried. The room was packed to standing room only, perhaps 250 people, and ¾ of them lifted their hands. I didn’t cry. I was too frustrated with Strayed to cry.

Oddly enough, I still enjoyed the book. For a journey about self-discovery and the search for inner strength, Wild delivers. Strayed is a successful, centered and strong woman so there is a positive resolution. But it was no easy journey to get there. And she certainly has cojones to write honestly about her shortcomings. But for a story about long distance hiking, I would look to other narratives.

Publisher: Random House Audio, 2012     Length: 13 hours, 6 minutes
Rating: 3 Stars     Source: Purchased on Audible

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