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.