The quick of it:
Rating: 2.5 stars
Who will like it: Fans of memoirs, especially those who liked Eat Pray Love. Fans of the ‘Dear Sugar’ advice column
Who won’t like it: People who don’t like memoirs; People who are intolerant of navel-gazing; anyone who strongly disliked Eat Pray Love; Those who are sensitive to wordy and superfluous writing.
The Good: This book is honest in regards to the author’s experiences and emotions; it is interesting and informative in regards to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and the rigors of backpacking. It’s a fairly light and easy read. The writing is engaging and descriptive.
The Bad: While the writing flows, it could have been edited more to get rid of extraneous words. The protagonist is prone to navel-gazing and can come across as being self-centered and whiny.
The long of it:
If I were forced to describe Cheryl Strayed’s Wild in one sentence, that sentence would go like this: 311 pages of the purest pseudo-feminist navel-gazing since Eat Pray Love. Not once in the entire book does Strayed reflect about what her experiences and emotions might imply about humanity in general. Not once does she consider (in the text, anyway) what her actions have done to those around her. Not once does she entertain the thought that maybe her family and friends (whom she blames for drifting apart after her mother’s death) are also having severe emotional reactions to losing a loved one.
It’s all. About. Cheryl.
To be fair, this should be expected (to a certain extent) when reading a memoir. One also has to remember that Cheryl was only 26 when these events took place. That being said, she had almost two decades to grow up before writing the memoir. If she did, I don’t think any of that time-worn wisdom made it into the book.
For example, Cheryl’s mother died while she was out picking up her brother, Lief, who had been MIA since their mother became sick a few months before. They arrive back at the hospital minutes after her mother passes. Cheryl is traumatized and haunted because her mother died without her.
It is truly tragic that Cheryl lost her mother so young. I don’t know what I would do under similar circumstances. I pity the 22-year old Cheryl, who in the midst of her grief is understandably destructive and self-centered. Not once does she stop to consider her brother, who only hours before was unaware that his mother was even sick, and hadn’t seen her in months. The problem is that the 40-something year old Cheryl doesn’t stop to consider him, either.
She commits countless acts of adultery against her loving and, by all accounts, saintly husband Paul, who inexplicably still loves and supports her, even through their divorce. She never stops to consider his feelings, only bemoans how she has victimized herself and forced herself into a divorce that she ‘neither wants nor doesn’t want.’ When she decides she hasn’t ruined her own life enough, she starts using heroin. Neither 20-something or 40-something year old Cheryl shows and remorse or pity for anyone besides herself.
She gets the idea to hike the PCT on a whim while in line at the hardware store, and does little planning besides buying a PCT guidebook. She starts the trek wearing boots that are a size too small, and doesn’t even think about how much her pack should weigh until after she’s already started and realizes that she can’t even lift it. She expects the hike to be literally like a walk in the park, and is shocked when she has to climb over trees and across ice and through blistering desert.
Poor Cheryl. Poor ditzy, dim-witted Cheryl.
Above I described the book as pseudo-feminist. What I meant was that Cheryl is the type of feminist who simultaneously ‘bucks the system’, or thinks she does, while enjoying the benefits that being a woman brings her. She might reject traditional sexism by sleeping around and thinking of herself as a ‘badass amazonian’ PCT hiker, but the truth of the matter is that she receives a lot of help along the way simply because she is a woman, and she’s willing to exploit this. Men give her rides, men help her with her pack, men give her places to sleep at night, they buy her stuff. One of the most revolting scenes of the book was when she accepted an invitation back to a man’s house- and brought her friends along uninvited- not because she liked the man, but to drink his booze and use his fireplace.
Cheryl might consider herself a badass Amazon for conquering the PCT alone, but in truth she had a lot of help that male hikers just wouldn’t get.
Besides the navel-gazing, self-centeredness, and fake feminism, the only other thing I truly disliked about this book was the writing. Not that it was bad, but that it was badly edited. About ¼ of the text could have been easily eliminated with little effect on the style, voice, or events. There were A LOT of extraneous words and sentences.
All that being said, I don’t dislike this book, and I’m trying to think of a concrete reason why. Maybe it’s because I like memoir, and I can handle a certain amount of egocentrism. Maybe it’s because I found the ins and outs of trail-life interesting and informative. Maybe it’s because-even if some of the content was annoying- Cheryl Strayed was being honest about how she felt all those years ago, and how she feels now. Maybe it’s because- even if she’s a little wordy- Cheryl Strayed can definitely paint a picture with her writing.
This book shares some similarities with Eat Pray Love, one of those similarities being the ending. Both author’s set out hoping for self-discovery and change, but in the end use their experiences as a catalyst to forgive themselves for being exactly as they are. In Wild, this conclusion seemed sudden and forced, but that does not mean that it is not valid.