I should have known. Wild is an Oprah’s Book Club pick, and that should have been enough to send me to the “Nope, not going to read it” line. And I didn’t read it for a long time. But then Reese, who I liked until that Atlanta traffic stop “Do you know who I am?!” incident happened, made a film version. And people kept talking about Wild like Cheryl Strayed was the most enlightened person since… well, Oprah? and I finally decided to give it a read and judge for myself.
I confess, in this case, I read many reviews before I read this book. I’m not sure if that colored my reading. I like to think they didn’t, because for every one star review, there’s a five star review.
But overall, I am meh about the book. And I had a visceral reaction to Strayed. I really shouldn’t let that affect my reaction to the book, but it does. What she did, setting off to hike the Pacific Crest Trail alone and unprepared, was monumentally, appallingly stupid and dangerous. It risked her life, and could have endangered others.
Aside from that, here are the things that just stuck with me while reading the book.
1) In describing a male nurse treating her mother in the hospital, she says something like “… and sometimes he just said no, his voice as soft as his penis in his uniform…” Really? Who says this? Ever? That’s the best simile she can use? Is it an attempt to show that while she is dealing with her mother dying, she’s still noticing the opposite sex? It just struck me as weird, put in there for shock value or… something.
2) I have to suspend belief to buy this whole tale. Despite reading a guidebook for the PCT “at least a dozen times” before embarking on her journey, it never occurs to Strayed to take practice hikes with her pack before beginning? In fact, she doesn’t even pack it at all until the morning she embarks on her quest, and then can’t believe how heavy it is. Listen, I’m generously described as an armchair backpacker, and even I know you need to break in boots and gear and do lots of little overnights before you undertake something of this magnitude. I kept thinking of Legally Blonde, paraphrased, “Do you think she just woke up one morning and decided to hike the PCT?”
3) Strayed can describe, fifteen years later, in excruciating detail, what it was like to kiss and sleep with her random hook-up in Ashland, OR, on a twenty-two hour date. But her description of things on the trail are generic at best, and borrowed from guidebooks at worst. In fact, her most descriptive experience on the trail, Crater Lake, is of a location and experience that is able to be accessed by weekend hikers. Am I part of the camp who thinks Strayed didn’t really hike the trail like she says she did? I don’t know. But I do find it interesting there’s no photos in the book of her journey and very few real descriptions of what she might have seen along the way that couldn’t also be found in guidebooks, other’s tales, or day hikes.
4) Unlike a lot of the reviews and blogs I have read about Wild, I never really warmed to Strayed and felt her angst and redemption. It just didn’t ring as authentic to me. First- and the part I admittedly struggle with the most- is Strayed’s complete inability to cope with her mother’s death. A part of me feels like that was an excuse for her to indulge in any and every bad behavior she wanted to. And I find it hard to believe that after a heroin addiction and copious cheating on her husband that he was ready to just take her back? Maybe. But it reads more self promoting than a sincere reaction- a way to paint herself in a better picture, if you will. Second, the horse. REALLY? You let that horse starve, and then, well, I skimmed over a lot of that passage because I was so sickened. I didn’t have the stomach to read that part in full and was so disgusted by the cruelty I considered not finishing the book.
5) I can’t decide how I feel about Strayed’s reactions to all her trail interactions. From what I understand, the hiking and backpacking community is pretty supportive, but it was other people who made it possible for make it as far as she did. Other people got her through the biggest obstacles of her trip, obstacles that were often of her own making. And the time she was asked to leave a campsite she hadn’t paid for? She took it as a personal injustice, that they should have just let her stay and that the couple was mean for enforcing the rules. It just bothered me.
6) I never got the payout that has made this book so life-changing for other people. For whatever reason, I didn’t feel the personal epiphany, the freedom, the climax of the journey.
Sorry, folks. I just don’t get what all the fuss is about with this one.