So I finally got around to reading Cheryl Strayed's hugely popular memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Vintage).
I hated it.
Every night I was reading it I would say something about what I disliked about it to Mr. CR, and every night he would say, "Then why are you still reading it? Please stop.*"
But there's the rub. I did read the whole thing. I did have a strong reaction to it throughout; mostly, dislike, but sometimes interest or understanding or even liking. If nothing else, and for lack of a better word, I had a relationship with this book.
In the book, Strayed looks back on her decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in the mid-1990s, when she was in her mid-twenties. The decision was motivated by her desire to change her life; in the aftermath of her mother's much too-early death from cancer, she made some poor personal choices. So off she went to be alone in the wilderness. Without, mind you, doing much in the way of preparation.
So there was my first quibble with the narrative. I actually like being outdoors, but I am not really outdoorsy and I find very little that is "redemptive" or "restorative" about natural landscapes.** I have a farm kid's understanding of (and respect for) Mother Nature: she can fuck you. You can do everything right while growing a crop, but if there's no rain or you get hail or you get flooded (or any one of a million other possibilities), you're screwed. So I've never really understood these people who find comfort in nature. Especially the way Strayed did nature: she didn't even try on her loaded backpack before she went on the trail. And I'm not the only person who was annoyed by that. I was talking with the librarian about this book, and her co-worker overheard us and interjected how much she hated this book. She hated it BECAUSE she was an outdoorsy person; she thought Strayed was unforgivably unprepared to go on a serious mountain hike, and that she had inspired other people to go when they were similarly unprepared.
But that wasn't all. I can certainly understand how losing your mother (and your best friend, which is what Strayed's mother seems to have been to her) would make you go off the deep end. But while I was reading this I also had the involuntary thought that, huh, I'd sure like to read a memoir about emotional distress where the woman doesn't turn to heroin or sex with a lot of different partners. I suppose memoirs about emotional distress where the woman turns to ice cream and wanting just to smack any potential sex partners for being different varieties of moron just don't pack the same punch.
But then? Very brief parts of the book would get past my dislike. And I'd think about them for the rest of the day. In one part of the story, Strayed hitches a ride with a woman (whose name is Lou) and two men, and learns that the woman lost her eight-year-old son in an accident a few years previously. Here's the conversation:
"She took a drag and blew the smoke out in a hard line. 'Anyway, after all that stuff about my son getting killed? After that happened, I died too. Inside." She patted her chest with the hand that held the cigarette. "I look the same, but I'm not the same in here. I mean, life goes on and all that crap, but Luke dying it took it out of me. I try not to act like it, but it did. It took the Lou out of Lou, and I ain't getting it back. You know what I mean?'
'I do,' I said, looking into her hazel eyes." (p. 186.)
I call that the paragraph that made me feel okay about reading a 315-page book I didn't particularly enjoy. And you know what? To remember that story, and to tell it in this way? I had to give Strayed some credit for that.
That is all. Have a good weekend, everyone.
*I think he meant stop reading the book, but you never know with Mr. CR. There's at least a fifty-fifty chance that what he meant was "please stop talking to me about this book."
**Unlike when I first stood on the outside observation deck of the Empire State Building and looked out at New York City. I just couldn't believe it. I looked for hours. Literally. My traveling companion was very tired of the Empire State Building by the time he finally pulled me off that observation deck.