“Wild” by Cheryl Strayed

WildTitle: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Author: Cheryl Strayed
ISBN: 9780307476074
Pages: 336
Release date: March 26, 2013
Publisher: Vintage
Genre: Memoir
Format: Paperback
Source: Personal collection
Rating: 4 out of 5

When Cheryl Strayed set off to hike an 1,100-mile portion of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), she wasn’t just leaving the comforts of home behind. She was attempting to discard a lifetime of emotional baggage as well: grief over her mother’s death, anger over her father’s abandonment, pain over her recent divorce, promiscuity, and a heroin problem:

It seemed to me the way it must feel to people who cut themselves on purpose. Not pretty, but clean. Not good, but void of regret. I was trying to heal. Trying to get the bad out of my system so I could be good again. To cure myself.

In addition to a documenting a journey of self-discovery, Wild is a paean to Strayed’s mother. From the first page, when she describes seeing one of her boots accidentally tumble down the mountainside, she reflects: “What is one boot without another? It is nothing.” The connection to her sense of loss after her mother’s death is obvious. From the beginning, she sets up this journey as a way to heal—not to get over her mother’s death, not to tie everything up in a neat bow, but to be able to grow up and move past her past:

I had to change was the thought that drove me in those months of planning. Not into a different person, but back to the person I used to be—strong and responsible, clear-eyed and driven, ethical and good. And the PCT would make me that way. There, I’d walk and think about my entire life. I’d find my strength again, far from everything that had made my life ridiculous.

On the trail, there is only the next step, and then the next. As Cheryl walks, she finds strength—not only a physical strength she never knew she had, but emotional fortitude as well.

I wanted to read this book because I was a big fan of Dear Sugar, her once-anonymous column on The Rumpus, and Wild single-bookedly restarted Oprah’s book club, aka Oprah 2.0.

However, Wild was mixed bag for me.

Strayed has no shortage of problems, some of which are external but several of which are her own doing (cheating on her husband, doing heroin). But she has an unusual attitude toward her mistakes: they made her who she is. While I like that approach, the way it plays out in the book made me wonder if she was being completely honest with herself. The purpose of this book is to document her change—how the trail is remaking her. But she glides over the troubles that she got into in the beginning. She spends a lot of time (rightfully) mourning her mom, and then mentions almost in passing the split between her, her siblings, and her stepfather. What happened there?

But at the same time, it was refreshing to read about a woman who had made dangerous mistakes and still came out OK. (Better than OK. Did I mention Oprah?)

It’s important to note the long years that passed between the hike and the writing of the book. Strayed (the grown woman) seems very conscious of shaping a narrative for herself (as a young woman). This book drove home to me the value of journaling. In fact, I suspect that she intended this trip to boost her out of her writing funk as well. She seemed to take copious notes—or she has an incredibly memory.

I recommend this book to fans of memoirs and to outdoors enthusiasts. Wild is a memorable journey from loss to renewal.

Quotes of note:

On finishing the hike: “Who would I be if I did? Who would I be if I didn’t?”

On change: “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 wasn’t 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.”

Don’t just take my word for it! Buy Wild from an independent bookstore or Amazon (Kindle version is available).

I receive a very, very small commission when you purchase the book through the above links. Thank you for helping to support my site–and my book addiction!

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