Once in a blue moon, if you’re a lucky reader (is there any other kind?), an author will come along and grab you by the metaphorical shoulders and shake you back to life from a slumber that you didn’t even know you were taking.
I am going to make a reader confession here. The first thing that drew me to Cheryl Strayed’s memoir at the Nashville airport was that hiking boot on the stark white front. I judged that book by its cover. I had also heard through the grapevine that Oprah had resurrected her Book Club recently. I had no idea that it was because of this memoir. I understand now why the queen of book fellowship chose this one.
Cheryl Strayed writes with ferocity. Her honesty may shock and appall you. You’ll have to choose to get over it. Strayed is a novelist– an artist. Her story invites you to experience her narrative in the same way that you might appreciate the work of a favorite band or painter. You will not agree with her choices and her rash bouts of self-destruction after the sudden death of her mother. Still, she allows you to contemplate to her whole story. The toil, tears, and self-loathing lead to a harsh, steep climb towards self-discovery.
The hard part for Strayed is that Wild has to be honest. It’s a memoir. It’s a phenomenal story of rebirth that requires background. If the first fifty pages of the book were focused on her training regimen to tackle the peaks and valleys of the Pacific Crest Trail, the book would be 95% less interesting. Strayed bravely puts it all out there. She explains her sadness and her failures with pure truth. Sentences will make you cringe. You will be embarrassed for her. You will be disappointed by her thoughts and her choices.
Soon after, you will be proud of her. How could she overcome the challenges that she faced? She fed off of them. They somehow made her stronger rather than landing her in jail or in the mortuary.
Wild takes the reader from death to rebirth and eventual growth. Strayed explains the death of her mother with confounding honesty. She reveals actions and feelings that she certainly does not take pride in. Importantly, she tells the whole story. Because she is so honest, we connect with her. We want success and happiness for her in the end. We want the trail to get easier. We want the backpack that she has lovingly named Monster to see her through to the end- to that bridge in a new city called Portland- where she will make herself a new home, start a family and sit down to write the very words that become this memoir.
Strayed carried heavy baggage emotionally and physically for the duration of her hike. By the end of this brave memoir, the load was still heavy, but she was comfortable carrying it. Most importantly, she takes a journey that delivers her from lost to found.
Wild has recently been released in paperback.
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