Echoing the ever-popular search for wilderness salvation by Chris McCandless (Back to the Wild, 2011) and every other modern-day disciple of Thoreau, Strayed tells the story of her emotional devastation after the death of her mother and the weeks she spent hiking the 1,100-mile Pacific Crest Trail. As her family, marriage, and sanity go to pieces, Strayed drifts into spontaneous encounters with other men, to the consternation of her confused husband, and eventually hits rock bottom while shooting up heroin with a new boyfriend. Convinced that nothing else can save her, she latches onto the unlikely idea of a long solo hike. Woefully unprepared (she fails to read about the trail, buy boots that fit, or pack practically), she relies on the kindness and assistance of those she meets along the way, much as McCandless did. Clinging to the books she lugs along—Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Adrienne Rich—Strayed labors along the demanding trail, documenting her bruises, blisters, and greater troubles. Hiker wannabes will likely be inspired. Experienced backpackers will roll their eyes. But this chronicle, perfect for book clubs, is certain to spark lively conversation. Copyright 2011 Booklist Reviews.
Epiphany among the blisters
A profound and moving pilgrimage through the wilderness of grief, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild is one of the best American memoirs to emerge in years. After the shock of her mother’s unexpected death, 25-year-old Strayed is profoundly lost in the world, her family shattered. In the tradition of Thoreau and Kerouac, she finds herself again by hitting the road, or in this case, through-hiking 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail through California and Oregon.
Painfully funny and honest, Strayed documents the sheer stupidity of her early days on the trail, when her pack weighs upwards of 70 pounds and she fills her camp-stove with the wrong kind of gas. But mile by mile, and toenail by lost toenail, she grows stronger and smarter and lighter as she experiences how the extreme physical suffering of long-distance hiking eases the intense emotional suffering that brought her to it. She realizes that her instinct to walk the PCT was “a primal grab for a cure,” an attempt to create a new self and life from the ruins of the old. This reinvention extends to her new name, “Strayed,” which she chooses because “I had strayed and I was a stray . . . from the wild places my straying had brought me, I knew things I couldn’t have known before.”
As “Dear Sugar” advice columnist for The Rumpus, Cheryl Strayed is beloved for her compassionate wisdom. With Wild, we now witness the crucible that forged that hard-won knowledge. On the PCT, the loneliness of grief evolves into a visionary state of solitude: “Alone wasn’t a room anymore, but the whole wide world, and now I was alone in that world, occupying it in a way I never had before.” Even so, “trail angels” begin to reveal themselves to her, people who offer water, food or companionship—stations along the lonely way.
Wild is never simply a survival memoir, although it offers up many a thrilling incident—bears, rattlesnakes, dehydration, blisters, weather—to compel the reader’s attention. It is also a guidebook for living in the world, introducing a vibrant new American voice with a deceptively simple message: Go outside and take a hike.
Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.
New paperback releases for reading groups
ONE CRUCIAL CHOICE
M.L. Stedman’s debut novel, The Light Between Oceans, is a poignant page-turner that marks the arrival of an impressive new literary talent. Tom Sherbourne minds the lighthouse on Janus Rock, an island off the coast of Australia. A World War I veteran with a strong sense of right and wrong, Tom leads a quiet life until he meets outgoing, bubbly Isabel. Eager for marriage and motherhood, she wins Tom’s affections, and the two make a home on the island. After Isabel endures a pair of miscarriages, their hopes for a family dim—until a boat washes ashore bearing a dead man and a baby, whom Isabel wants to keep. Tom, concerned about the baby’s mother, has doubts about the decision, but he guards their secret, and his silence has heartrending repercussions. Emotionally riveting, Stedman’s powerful novel won’t soon be forgotten by readers. It’s a first-rate story and also a sensitive exploration of the ways in which loyalty and love shape individual lives.
A TRIP WORTH TAKING
In Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, her remarkable chronicle of self-discovery, Cheryl Strayed shares the story of the solitary trek that changed her life. Emotionally exhausted after the death of her mother, bouts of drug use and a divorce, 26-year-old Strayed embarks on a difficult hike along the Pacific Crest Trail—a 1,100-mile stretch that passes through California and Oregon. The already challenging enterprise is further complicated by Strayed’s lack of preparation. She fails to research the trail or fit herself out with proper hiking boots. Instead of suitable camping equipment, she brings along beloved books by Adrienne Rich and Flannery O’Connor. But her willingness to risk everything adds to the appeal of the narrative. This is a compelling story of personal transformation seasoned with fascinating details about the trail itself—its hazards, its challenges and its hikers, who are, by and large, an odd bunch. Chosen for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0, this memoir stands out thanks to Strayed’s formidable storytelling skills.
TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS
The story of a mother who pulls an unexpected disappearing act, Maria Semple’s second novel, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, is a charmer from start to finish. Bernadette is disgruntled with the politically correct Seattle lifestyle she and her family became a part of when they left Los Angeles. Although life is good—her computer-whiz husband, Elgin, works at Microsoft, and their daughter, Bee, excels in school—Bernadette retreats from everyday existence. Unbeknownst to her family, she uses an online personal assistant, who takes care of her daily tasks—and listens to her complaints. When Bernadette disappears, Bee is left to piece together her story, and the book unfolds through the emails, magazine pieces and police reports she gathers. In Semple’s hands, this narrative approach feels wonderfully original. Semple, who spent 15 years as a writer for TV shows, including “Arrested Development,” is a gifted novelist who brings warmth, humor and a sly intelligence to this tale of maternal angst.
Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.
Unsentimental memoir of the author's three-month solo hike from California to Washington along the Pacific Crest Trail. Following the death of her mother, Strayed's (Torch, 2006) life quickly disintegrated. Family ties melted away; she divorced her husband and slipped into drug use. For the next four years life was a series of disappointments. "I was crying over all of it," she writes, "over the sick mire I'd made of my life since my mother died; over the stupid existence that had become my own. I was not meant to be this way, to live this way, to fail so darkly." While waiting in line at an outdoors store, Strayed read the back cover of a book about the Pacific Crest Trail. Initially, the idea of hiking the trail became a vague apparition, then a goal. Woefully underprepared for the wilderness, out of shape and carrying a ridiculously overweight pack, the author set out from the small California town of Mojave, toward a bridge ("the Bridge of the Gods") crossing the Columbia River at the Oregon-Washington border. Strayed's writing admirably conveys the rigors and rewards of long-distance hiking. Along the way she suffered aches, pains, loneliness, blistered, bloody feet and persistent hunger. Yet the author also discovered a newfound sense of awe; for her, hiking the PCT was "powerful and fundamental" and "truly hard and glorious." Strayed was stunned by how the trail both shattered and sheltered her. Most of the hikers she met along the way were helpful, and she also encountered instances of trail magic, "the unexpected and sweet happenings that stand out in stark relief to the challenges of the trail." A candid, inspiring narrative of the author's brutal physical and psychological journey through a wilderness of despair to a renewed sense of self. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews
Another how-I-healed-myself memoir—but consider the source: Strayed is the author of Torch, a lyric yet tough-minded first novel that got some attention, and the story is arresting. Shattered at 26 by her mother's death and the end of her marriage, she did something way out of the realm of her experience—she took a solo 1100-mile hike. Wish I had her guts.
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Library Journal Reviews
Strayed delves into memoir after her fiction debut, Torch. She here recounts her experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in 1995 after her mother's death and her own subsequent divorce. Designated a National Scenic Trail in 1968 but not completed until 1993, the PCT runs from Mexico to Canada, and Strayed hiked sections of it two summers after it was officially declared finished. She takes readers with her on the trail, and the transformation she experiences on its course is significant: she goes from feeling out of her element with a too-big backpack and too-small boots to finding a sense of home in the wilderness and with the allies she meets along the way. Readers will appreciate her vivid descriptions of the natural wonders near the PCT, particularly Mount Hood, Crater Lake, and the Sierras—what John Muir proclaimed the "Range of Light." VERDICT This book is less about the PCT and more about Strayed's own personal journey, which makes the story's scope a bit unclear. However, fans of her novel will likely enjoy this new book. [See Prepub Alert, 10/1/11.]—Karen McCoy, Northern Arizona Univ. Lib., Flagstaff
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Library Journal Reviews
Cheryl Strayed pens a powerful and haunting memoir of her journey along the epic Western path in Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Knopf. ISBN 9780307592736. $25.95). In a free fall after the death of her mother and what seemed like the inevitable divorce, Strayed saw the 2,663-mile-long route as a way out. What she found along the trail were fascinating characters, a deep sense of awe, and a much-needed respite. Strayed's openness in recounting her triumphs and mistakes and her honest, heartfelt, and sympathetic approach to life is also reflected in Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. [TBT is one of LJ's Top Ten Books of 2012, p. 22.—Ed.] (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Reviews
In the summer of 1995, at age 26 and feeling at the end of her rope emotionally, Strayed resolved to hike solo the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,663-mile wilderness route stretching from the Mexican border to the Canadian and traversing nine mountain ranges and three states. In this detailed, in-the-moment re-enactment, she delineates the travails and triumphs of those three grueling months. Living in Minneapolis, on the verge of divorcing her husband, Strayed was still reeling from the sudden death four years before of her mother from cancer; the ensuing years formed an erratic, confused time "like a crackling Fourth of July sparkler." Hiking the trail helped decide what direction her life would take, even though she had never seriously hiked or carried a pack before. Starting from Mojave, Calif., hauling a pack she called the Monster because it was so huge and heavy, she had to perform a dead lift to stand, and then could barely make a mile an hour. Eventually she began to experience "a kind of strange, abstract, retrospective fun," meeting the few other hikers along the way, all male; jettisoning some of the weight from her pack and burning books she had read; and encountering all manner of creature and acts of nature from rock slides to snow. Her account forms a charming, intrepid trial by fire, as she emerges from the ordeal bruised but not beaten, changed, a lone survivor. Agent: Janet Silver, Zachary Shuster Harmsworth Agency. (Mar.)
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