I'm about halfway through _Wild_, because it was on my kindle, and it is next month's pick for book group in Mayberry, NH (<-- not its real name). I read about 40% of it while waiting in line at the park, etc., and grew increasingly suspicious of the author and the story. When I got home last night, very high on the list was finding out whether anyone else had the same reaction, and whether any of the anonymized people in the book had come forward to claim their character.
"Greg"/Roger Carpenter has come forward with confirmation of his part in the story:
Carpenter's story goes a long way to confirming at least components of the tale: Cheryl Strayed definitely hiked parts of the PCT, and at no point (if you are paying attention) does she claim to have through hiked it end to end, so some of the more aggressive people attacking her story are attacking it for claims she did not make. On the other hand, Carpenter's story confirms that there are elements to the story as told that are fairly difficult to believe, and some of these elements are quite noticeably the elements that are in no way fact checkable.
Oprah picked _Wild_ for her book club reboot. While of course we all love Oprah, and Oprah is a perfect proof that the most implausible life stories are sometimes, nevertheless, entirely true, Oprah's choices in book clubs _have_ also rather conspicuously included memoirs that turned out to have not been true in their entirety.
There are a _lot_ of interviews with the author of the book, and people have already dug up the ex-husband "Paul" and gotten confirmation of another component of the book, that the author used heroin and slept with several men, and lied about it at the time. I felt that the drug use in the book was believable (not all critics did), in part because when she later down hikes to get help and meets three men, one of whom gives her a ride back to his house where she cleans up and eats (leave trail, hitch hike, shower and tons of food is a real theme in _Wild_). While she is sitting in his truck, she pokes around and finds his flask of whisky, which she samples, his gun, which she leaves alone. He returns and offers her the whisky, which she does not admit (in the text anyway) to having already found. He also offers her some licorice. I'm actually kind of suspicious of the licorice story, because it seems to be there as the anticlimatic punch line to the entirely-in-her-head story of What Is This Guy About To Do To Me (another theme of the book: Cheryl is alone with a man/men, and wonders whether they are about to do something to her, imagines what she might do with one of them, thinks she isn't cleaned up enough to get laid, etc.). But the rest of it seems entirely in keeping with junkie nature, in that it displays a total lack of respect for someone else's property that is quite startling to anyone who has never participated in that.
So to sum up: I believe her and her ex- in that they say when she was cheating on him and using, she lied like crazy about it and _very believably_. I believe her and her ex-, that she went through a period of time where she was using. (There are these odd interviews, where she talks about high school and dropping below a hundred pounds, but not _really_ having full blown anorexia or bulimia, and she also tells people that she wasn't an _addict_ although she was using daily, etc. There's some reason to believe that she has slightly different understandings of what some words mean than other people think those words mean. See: http://www.oprah.com/oprahsbookclub/7-Things-That-Didnt-Make-it-Into-Wild-by-Cheryl-Strayed)
I'm a little more hazy on the promiscuity. I feel like she was quite astonishingly NOT OK with being sexual with other people (used terms like "having an affair", which always just make me laugh, because they sound so wildly out of date -- and this woman is not even a full year older than me, and I was laughing about that term back when the events of this story took place). Like, not okay with it then, and not okay with it now. And yet she got a women's studies degree? I guess I would sort of expect a sort of hippie, women's studies person to be less breathtakingly judgmental about being sexually active with more than one person. (<-- Yeah, that's some poly optimism right there. I need to get a lot more cynical about people, maybe.) True, the lying/cheating thing was a problem, but that didn't seem to be the part that she was not OK with. I also feel like it is kind of difficult to get a sense of just how sexually active she was, versus how sexually active was she in her head. I really felt like she was a pretty low number person, altho perhaps she made it around the knee of the curve, thus past about 20, but perhaps not by much.
She also seemed to have a whole lot of mundane ideas about gender -- she internalized a lot of girl-beliefs that seem very at odds with the life she had growing up and very at odds with deciding to go on a long trip, mostly by herself, mostly on foot (that getting laid involves maintaining a certain standard of dress and grooming, that some sexuality styles are specific to men and others to women). I sort of understand that 1990s era gender studies actually _reinforced_ some gender ideas that we now understand are mostly bullshit, but I'm _the same age_ as this woman, and I grew up around a lot of women who were/are heterosexual and married and had kids and also were tall and strong and did a lot of related amazing things including going out in the wilderness by themselves (or maybe with a dog) for extended periods of time. And these women, for the most part, didn't share this kind of beauty obsession. Maybe it's a PacNW vs Minnesota difference?
A cursory look around the web suggests that while you can get a look at at least some of what is on Cheryl's sister's FB page, the siblings don't seem to have given interviews to the Daily Mail, a la the ex-husband. I also don't see big contributions from characters in the book other than "Greg"/Roger Carpenter.
I guess where I'm at right now is this. (1) It's not the story of One Woman Lone Hiking the PCT End to End. It nowhere claims to be, and it isn't. (2) She clearly did some hiking, including some multi-night through hiking. (3) She describes skipping sections, such as the High Sierras, due to snow pack, and also hiking alternate routes for the same reason. Given the number of times she _describes_ downhiking, hitching a ride, and continuing at some other point on the trail, and given the delay between when she did the hike and when she wrote the book, I think it is safe to say that accurately reconstructing the actual hike is probably impossible at this date, and she may well have created an impression that she hiked more than she actually did. (4) She says, when describing her fears of losing the trail, that she never could make any sense out of navigating (I'm not blaming her for this -- I'm a big believer of staying on marked trails myself), and that she is a story person, instead. It is entirely possible that most of the people in Strayed's life who love her recognize that her stories can get out of line with actual fact a bit more than a typical person's (this happens to everyone, I get that; I'm saying that it happens a bit more with some people and she may be one of those); if there is a future scandal in which _Wild_ is subjected to the same kind of opprobrium that was dished out over Frey's book, we probably shouldn't be too surprised.
The book as a whole is a textbook example of attachment problems. Dad was abusive and Mum yo-yoed about leaving him before she finally did, and part of how she stayed gone was by getting a horse and basically spending enormous amounts of her non-working time with the horse (kids got to play by themselves while she did stable work to pay for the feed etc.). That, in combination with the modern pioneer lifestyle in isolation from their neighbors must have created a godawful attachment environment, where the whole world revolved an insecure attachment to mum -- who then died young of cancer, and the only alternate attachment figures were siblings, who were The Competition for mum's attention. Of course the kids are going to go in search of love and happiness elsewhere as soon as humanly possible and it is no surprise that drugs would be very attractive. Killing the horse suddenly looks unbelievably complex in the story. If only this theme had been developed more consciously? Perhaps it is later in the book.