Reading: “Wild”

I finished “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed last night, a book that I bought after several months of debate. I would pick it up at the bookstore, then put it down. Pick it up. Down. I try to get my books at the library, but this one’s popularity had prevented my borrowing a copy. Was it worth the hardcover price?

After 310 pages, I don’t know. Strayed’s memoir is about the summer she spent hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. It is just as much about her grief over her mother’s death from cancer and the subsequent crumbling of her family. Given my love of travel writing and my intimate familiarity with grief, I wanted to love this book.

I couldn’t. Strayed propels the story with a clear, strong voice. Every sentence feels polished. It was an easy and mostly enjoyable reading. The problem was that I couldn’t maintain my sympathy for Strayed. She has a husband who she says is wonderful and supportive, yet she squanders her marriage on a series of flings. She makes it clear that she is woefully unprepared for her trail voyage, which seems perfectly understandable in the beginning. By the end, I was bored with her inability to learn from her mistakes.

The book does feel as though it’s building toward an epiphany. Strayed will finish her hike or not. Either way, she will learn something big about herself, about the world, about both. She does offer a tidy ending, but she doesn’t offer much insight into how she reached her tidy ending. And that’s the part I really wanted, and the part that I imagine most readers would want. How do you move from tragedy to renewal?

So read it for the adventure, for the descriptions, for the surprise. Just don’t expect to reap all of the wisdom that must have come with the journey.

3 thoughts on “Reading: “Wild”

  1. I haven’t read Wild yet – it’s on my Nook – but for the wisdom part try Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection of her Dear Sugar columns from The Rumpus. I thought it was pretty wonderful.

  2. I read it maybe a year ago or so. I agree on the part of how she reached the “happily ever after”. While I have not squandered my marriage on flings, I have certainly had moments of similarity and connection to her situation. From my experiences, it seems normal to completely shut down and do something unexpected and life changing like hiking the trail. It seemed to me she didn’t say what she really meant, but again, to me, I understand because I’m the same way. But…since she’s the one selling books it would have been nice for the “aha” moment to be better clarified. :) I’m probably not making sense myself. I liked it because I definitely identified with her in many parts. I also wish she would have hiked the entire trail and not finished in Oregon. I felt cheated. :-P

  3. I read it a few months ago. I’ve heard the marriage criticism, but that was one of the parts I most identified with. At her age, I had the good on paper boyfriend who was everything I was supposed to want in a husband, but ultimately didn’t. As for the resolution, my take away wasn’t that she had any grand epiphany, but rather that she grew into herself. She dealt with her grief over her mother, her marriage, her disintegrating family, and that in itself was the resolution. I hadn’t thought of it before, but I kind of like the understated self-discovery. Again, that might be because I identify with that instead of people who have grand moments of insight.

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