14 December 2018

Wild, by Cheryl Strayed (a review of the audiobook)

Over the summer, in the chaos and hectic days of moving from Florida to Puerto Rico, I spent four months renting a house in my Dad's neighborhood so my son and I could have family right across the street while my husband located the perfect home for us. During that time, I was remotely helping my in-laws' Boston boating business during the extremely busy summer season, so I decided to enroll my son in a monthly summer camp. Thank God for that summer camp for him, and for me, Audible.com saved my sanity as well during my short breaks throughout the day. This excellent memoir of Cheryl Strayed kicking butt and walking miles after unforgiving miles following some of the most difficult and emotionally tangled and destructive points in her life, were astounding.

There were so many times over the years I had planned to read this. Stumbling across the memorable cover in a bookstore, or kicking myself when the movie came out and I thought to myself, "I have to read this before I watch the movie!" Which then meant I always kept putting it off. And I did miss out. I didn't realize then what I know now, which is that I needed this book. I needed to hear what this woman chose to do after all of the events in her life up to that point. I could have used this memoir to inspire me after my own separation and divorce almost two decades ago. I was so impressed by Strayed's decision to do a thing so wildly different than what the average individual struggling with a sudden and unexpected, devastating loss of a parent, followed by the downward spiral into drug addiction, along with her infidelity to her young husband (who, I felt, she treated fairly and respectfully throughout the memoir, owning her failures and mistreatment to him). I was wrapped up in this woman and her feisty and unsure decision to just walk, with a (to be expected) sometimes naive assumption of hopeful results, an overwhelmingly heavy pack on her back, but with a vigor and a faithfulness in this dream. As I listened to the remarkably narrated audiobook, I thought to myself, "why didn't I do something like this years ago? When my mother passed and my former husband and I had just divorced? Why didn't I do something different, something wild, to follow my instinct and guts, to throw it all out the window and just be?" I regret the years I didn't read this. I am confident this would have propelled me into something different at the time, something new. 

I wept for Strayed when she encountered one obstacle after another as she walked the trail, I cheered her on to continue when she screamed out in disgust or anger or frustration, and I was madly obsessed with her overall willingness to just keep going. Because that's exactly how life is, isn't it? Somehow, we just keep plugging along, one foot in front of the other, trying to make the best out of all of the messes we create. In a vague and long life, we just make it happen, we just do it. In Strayed's time of just over 3 months to walk the Pacific Coast Trail, her life was singularly isolated and compacted into that stretch of trail, and she could view all of the missteps and mistakes, and identify some of the choices she now needed to make.

Books were a necessary weight for her, and I would feel the torture of painfully ripping pages out after she was done with it to make fires and relieve the burden on her back. She could never carry more than what she needed, and this human filled with flaws, regrets and hope, legitimately walked it all. She wasn't one of the many who would frequently stop and spend nights in a hotel. She had nothing except a self-esteem filled with confusion and sadness, and you certainly can't pay for a hotel room with that. So on she walked, 1,100 miles and 94 days, alone, hungry at times, with some pretty bad wicked blisters to contend with. But she never, ever gave up. Not once.

Side note: Following this book, I listened to Bill Bryson's A Walk through the Woods of the Appalachian Trail, and all I could think was, "Cheryl Strayed could beat Bill Bryson any day." Either by walking trails and writing. Sorry, Mr. Bryson, but I'm team Cheryl all the way, forever and ever. She didn't walk during the day and spend nights in hotels. She was an all out bad ass.

(Click here to follow me on Goodreads or click here on Audible.com to listen to a sample.)

Wild is a powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an 1100-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe - and built her back up again. At 22, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother's death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State - and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone. Strayed faced down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and loneliness of the trail. Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.
Movie thoughts: I watched Reese Witherspoon in Wild, and I think she knocked it out of the park. It was intense, beautiful, heart-wrenching, and filled with guilt so intensely felt that I owned this author's pain, once again. It was a beautiful adaptation. A movie just as good as the book. 

About the Author (from Wikipedia)
Cheryl Strayed is an American memoirist, novelist, essayist and podcast host. The author of four books, her award-winning writing has been published widely in anthologies and major magazines. She's amazing, and her actual bio (click here) is chockfull of all of her incredible nuances, life lessons, and general insights into her incredible personality.

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  1. I bought this book after seeing the movie but haven't had a chance to read it yet.

  2. @bermudaonion - It's excellent. Hands down one of my favorites, and makes me want to read even more memoirs, particularly ones that are nature-based. I hope you get a chance to read it!