Book Review: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail

by Cheryl Strayed
ISBN: 978-0-307-59273-6
Alfred A. Knopf, 2012

Maybe it was a case of bad timing. I read this book right after I finished Me to We by Craig and Marc Kielburger. By comparison, Strayed’s misguided, self-focused misadventures seemed shallow and ridiculous after the prudent, outward-looking world vision of the Kielburger brothers.

Or maybe it’s that Strayed is no Bill Bryson. I enjoyed Bryson’s telling of his own misguided, self-focused misadventures on the Appalachian Trail in A Walk in the Woods. But Bryson doesn’t take himself so damned seriously and he’s an entertaining humorist.

Whatever the reason, Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of her mountain hike irritated me.

Strayed hit the Pacific Coast trail shockingly unprepared. Here’s a tip for any potential mountain trail hikers: It’s hard. It’s an uncomfortable, smelly, dangerous, potentially life-threatening, foot-blistering experience. Don’t be surprised by this.

Let me wrap up the plot of this book for you:

Woman gets married at 19. Woman’s mother dies a few years later. Woman ruins her marriage and becomes a drug addict. In her drug-haze of divorce pain, she decides that hiking the Pacific Coast Trail would be a good idea. But you know, the Pacific Coast Trail is really hard. It’s hard. Blisters, a heavy pack, snow, extreme heat, blisters, leering men, friendships, sex against a rock, Hawaiian screwdrivers, blisters, stunning vistas, bears, rattlesnakes, a fox, a lucky feather, blisters, the same food over and over and over, scenic lakes, up-up-up, down-down-down, the end.

Strayed (she chose this last name for herself out of a dictionary) makes a point of making the hike alone: a woman against the mountains. In normal circumstances I applaud a woman making a case for the empowerment of women, but Strayed doesn’t succeed there either. She earns the nickname “Hapless Hiker.” Men along the way cast sidelong glances at her poorly planned, ill-equipped approach to the trail. I’m not sure that helps our feminist cause. By the end of the trail, her nickname is “The Queen of the PCT” because people along the way grant her special privileges because she’s a woman. Sheesh.

The sticker on the front of my hardcover copy tells me that this book is part of Oprah’s Book Club 2.0. I shouldn’t be surprised given Oprah’s fondness for the “downtrodden woman triumphs over adversity” theme, but in this case it’s more a case of “hapless woman somehow miraculously survives her own colossally stupid decisions unscathed.”

I didn’t leave this book feeling inspired or empowered. I didn’t laugh. I didn’t cry. I shook my head often. I clucked my teeth now and then. I said “Oh, you have GOT to be kidding me” out loud more than once. I can’t recommend this book. If you want an entertaining book about a mountain trail walk, I recommend A Walk in the Woods.



About Arlene Somerton Smith

Writer, laughing thinker, miner of inspirational insights, sports fan, and community volunteer

Posted on August 15, 2012, in Books I bought, Books I bought but wish I hadn't, Non-fiction and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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