Wild is the story of a young woman who, completely broken by grief over the loss of her mother and the breakdown of her marriage, decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from California to Washington State without any training or experience.
The premise of this book alone is mind-blowing, and the fact that it’s a true story written by the woman who experienced it all – the aptly named Cheryl Strayed (disclaimer: she chose her own last name) – makes it all the more compelling.
I’m sure many of you have watched the eponymous film made a few years ago starring Reese Witherspoon as Strayed. It was nominated for academy awards and was acclaimed for Witherspoon’s performance and it’s take on tough subject matter.
Wild isn’t a book for the faint of heart. It delves into some pretty dark stuff. Strayed recounts her struggles with heroin, an abortion and infidelity, and at times I found myself questioning why she was making the choices she made. And then I realized: that’s the point. Although Wild may present itself as a book about adventure – which in some ways it is – I found it to be much more of a commentary on grief and loss and how people deal with tragic events.
Having lost so many of the things that made up her identity, Strayed decided to go and do something new and challenging and see if she could endure the physical and psychological pain of hiking for over 100 days alone in some of the most unpredictable wilderness in the United States. She encounters bears, rattlesnakes and other obstacles, but also meets kind people along the way who help her and accept her.
Wild is a sad book. It’s not uplifting in the way you might expect it to be. While Strayed’s story is compelling and inspiring, I don’t think it’s meant to be a suggestion that running off into the wilderness will cure you of your sadness. People cope with loss and grief in many ways, and quite literally risking your life on a solo hike isn’t the best option for everyone. When she’d done her hike, her body has changed and she is physically stronger and tougher, but the realities of her life are still there and haven’t been cured. She has learned and grown and in many ways healed, but her journey can’t change what happened with her mother and her marriage.
That being said, I think Wild is a fantastic book for anyone going through a challenging or confusing time in their life. It’s about enduring hardship and overcoming obstacles, and I found Strayed’s blunt, honest storytelling to be very refreshing. I think if I’d read this at a time in my life when everything was going perfectly I probably wouldn’t have bene able to relate to it much, but since I have been going through my own confusing time, I was very happy to read Wild. It made me feel less alone and more understood.
If you liked this you might also like:
- The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses by Jeanette Walls