Tuesday, July 17, 2012

WILD: From lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed ✰✰✰

This was one of those weird, undefinable books for me.  How do you rate a book where the writing was quite good, the editing decent enough (it did get a bit redundant at times), but you just really, really disliked the narrator, and the book was a memoir?
I cannot say that the book was bad, because it wasn’t-Cheryl Strayed is an excellent writer.  Prior to getting into the story of her journey, the reader was given just enough background information to understand what led the author to undertake such a drastic undertaking.  From the moment she decided to set foot on the Pacific Crest Trail, she carried the reader along with her through every agony, mishap (there were many), humorous event, and joyful moment.  Interspersed throughout her account were stories from her Minnesota childhood, her mother’s battle with cancer, and her failed marriage; these stories wove very nicely into the trail narrative.  This brought us to the part of the book that caused my rating to take a nose-dive from a five star read to a three.
Allow me to say, before I write another word, that Cheryl Strayed was very aware of her own character weaknesses, and she was forthright and made no attempt at concealment whatsoever in the course of her telling.  There were two reasons that drove Cheryl to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, the first of which was that she felt unbalanced by losing her mother to cancer, but the second of which was more driving.  She had been unfaithful to her devoted husband, who had seen her through her mother’s illness, not once, but many, many times, and she felt that she needed to do something to cleanse and center herself.  Despite this, Cheryl had a very casual attitude towards sex-seeing nothing wrong with one-night stands along the trail, for instance.  This might not bother some readers, but it goes very against my personal values, and given that part of her own stated reasons for traveling the trail was to atone for ruining her marriage due to infidelity, it interfered with my rating the book higher.  Also, she went through numerous short periods of heroin use, sometimes just one or two days, not long enough to be addicted, yet she repeatedly committed the same mistakes over and over again, despite vowing not to do it again.  Much as I admired Cheryl’s candor, in her bald honesty she painted a picture of a person I didn’t like very much, and it made it a little difficult to root for her along the way.  I am not so certain that she was really all that “found” by the end of the trail either, although I do think she was making some positive headway.  
The audio of this book, which was the way I experienced it, was very good, and I would definitely recommend it.  It was put out by Random House Audio and narrated by Bernadette Dunne.
If my comments have put anyone off reading Wild, I do want to say that I can give two enthusiastic thumbs up for her writing, even if I did not connect with her personally, and thus I look forward to reading her novel, Torch, which I hope to get to in the near future.

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