My thoughts: I'll let you in on the one fact about me that continues to absolutely baffle Mr. Nomadreader: I really want to hike the Appalachian Trail. He thought I was kidding when I first mentioned it. To be fair, we'd been together for years before it came up, and he was well aware that not only have I have never been camping, but I am also generally frightened of the woods, animals and anything that suddenly moves. (I proudly drink out of my "I'm outdoorsy in that I like to get drunk on patios" coffee mug.) He knows I immensely enjoy comfortable beds, couches, air conditioning, good food and modern toilets. He's right. I have no desire to simply go camping, but I do still have a desire, and a longing, to hike the Appalachian Trail. I remain in awe that one can walk from Georgia to Maine (or vice versa.) Granted, I spent some very formative years in Atlanta with people who did enjoy the outdoors, and hiking all or part of the trail was a common activity for many of them. Will it ever happen? I can't imagine getting enough time off work to be able to do it.
But enough about me. Despite my normal aversion to the outdoors and memoirs, I was intrigued by Wild. Cheryl Strayed's writing is gorgeous and honest and painful. I don't think this memoir would have been possible much earlier in her life. She needed distance from her twenty-something self to write with this level of clarity and unapologetic strength. With almost twenty years hindsight, she manages to make her stupid, early-twenties actions not only easy to relate to, but she also provides the ultimate context to keep the tale from being utterly depressing: we know she makes it. Even knowing the ending from the beginning, I read without putting this book down. I cried. I actually hugged the book when I finished it.
I read this memoir in a single day. The more I read, the more intrigued with Strayed I was and the more enraptured with her writing I became:
"I was as searching as I was skeptical. I didn't know where to put my faith, or if there was such a place, or even precisely what the word faith meant, in all of the complexity. Everything seems to be possibly potent and possibly fake."Wild is the wonderful type of non-fiction I love because it is as emotionally real as great fiction is to me. I haven't loved a memoir this much since Eat, Pray, Love (I do sometimes wonder if I would loved that book as much if I read it for the first time today, in my early thirties, as I did when I read it in my mid twenties, but, of course, there's no way to know.) They're completely different memoirs, but Gilbert and Strayed both write with an admirable amount of honesty. And they both write with immense wisdom.
Wild isn't perfect; in the first eighty pages Strayed is sometimes redundant as she sets both the present of the memoir time (1995) and her past (pre-1995.) As the narrative moves on, she goes into more detail about some stories already mentioned, and this repetition dragged down the narrative in some of those early moments. Despite these minor structural issues: I wholeheartedly recommend Wild. The writing and honesty are empowering and beautiful. I recognized a lot of my twenty-something self in Cheryl Strayed, albeit not the details, and she made revisiting it seem uplifting and cathartic rather than embarrassing.
Favorite passage: "Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren't a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was. The radical aloneness of the PCT had altered that sense. Alone was not a room anymore, but the whole wide world, and now I was alone in that world, occupying it in a way I never had before. Living at large like this, without even a roof over my head, made the world feel a bigger and smaller to me."
The verdict: Despite not being a fan of the outdoors or memoirs, I adored Wild. Strayed's writing is as refreshing as her honesty. Even though the map at the beginning outlines her journey and the ending is never in doubt, I turned the pages with suspense, but I read slowly to savor each word of her prose.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 336 pages
Publication date: March 20, 2012
Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Wild from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)
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