June 15th, 2015

_Wild_, Cheryl Strayed, a review, sort of

There's a movie based on the book, with Reese Witherspoon, which seems a little odd, given the author at the time of the events was in her mid 20s, which Witherspoon is ... not.

Written long after the events described, Strayed's memoir collapses the end of her youthful first marriage (married at 19, divorced around 25), the death of her mother from cancer (when her mother was in her mid 40s), Strayed's recovery from using heroin, and trekking on the PCT. Unsurprisingly, a memoir written long after the fact about a young woman who had been abusing opiates is not the easiest thing to believe in. Mostly, I didn't (altho I did believe the drug use, because of that scene in which she systematically goes through the pickup truck she is sitting in and fails to mention that to the driver when he returns -- and doesn't thing this requires any explanation for the benefit of the reader for that matter. Junkie behavior, mostly feral).

Strayed's mother is alternately and sometimes simultaneously idealized, loathed, and the object of Strayed's mostly unrequited passionate love. It's not hard to see that there must have been at least a few attachment issues being raised by an abusive father and a mother who took a while to leave him, and when she did, she did a fair amount of pot ("it's just an herb"), showered her horse with love while leaving the kids to fend for themselves, and isolated the family from any other caregivers or even friends. That plus Strayed's age, coming off the heroin, and the general vibe of the mid 1990s probably goes a long way to explain Strayed's ambivalence about sex and her confusion about her own desires.

If you are looking for a trail narrative, there are much better ones out there (more believable, less disastrous, and more purely trail narrative -- a huge chunk of the book is Strayed not being on the trail for a wide variety of reasons). If you are looking for someone who sorted through the flaws in her upbringing and came to a enlightened place of compassion, there are somewhat better stories out there. I'll say this for _Wild_: it has great narrative momentum. The story is relentless, and difficult to put down. Alas, whenever I did put it down, I was loath to pick it up again, because I found the narrator so difficult to trust.

I was happy to learn that she bought a house from her earnings with this book. I like to believe that where she is in life now is a good place, and she is creating a better family than the one she came from. That's what we all hope for, except those lucky enough to come from perfection, who aspire instead to duplicating what they grew up with.