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Wild: Book Review

Wild: Book Review

Wild by Cheryl Strayed has gained the attention of millions because of the film adaptation released in December 2014 by Fox Searchlight Productions. Before venturing out to see the film, I wanted to read the book, published in 2012 more than a decade and a half after the events in the story took place.

The memoir recounts Cheryl Strayed’s 1995 thru-hike on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), a national scenic trail that spans the length of the American West Coast from Mexico to Canada. Strayed writes about her PCT journey chronologically while strategically interspersing back story and flashbacks to create a narrative centered around her theme of From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Cheryl Strayed 1995

Cheryl Strayed 1995

A brief history of Cheryl Strayed as told in Wild: in 1991 when Strayed is about to finish college, her mother is suddenly diagnosed with cancer and quickly passes away – leaving her shocked and emotionally torn. Her inability to deal with this trauma leads to a few years of tragically bad decision ranging from ruining a marriage to shooting heroin. Her decision to hike the PCT comes not from a deep love of nature or an interest in the specific trail but instead a need to escape her life.

Strayed is successful in smoothly integrating this personal history into her narrative in a way that also serves to keep the monotony of trail life engaging. Here we see a pattern found in many “journey” stories – the bulk of the journey, the routine of everyday life on the trail is completely overshadowed by the quirks, the moments that are different and worth noting. Cheryl admits that she is alone most of the time on the trail but spends significant page time building characters she’ll meet for a night and her relationships with them. This makes sense from a basic storytelling point of view – what is there to say about weeks of 20 mile hiking days with very little action other than changing elevation and a few animal sightings.

In fact, even though Strayed does attribute nature to her healing – the book is not about the PCT at all. The reason Strayed spends so much time on her own emotions and relationships is because this is a memoir about emotional transformation. Her inner journey is really what she’s writing about and the PCT is simply added in as a pretty backdrop. 

Check back later this week for a review of the film. Header photo from Resonant Living.

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