Cheryl Strayed. She strayed from her home, from the pain of her mother’s death, and from her stepfather’s remarriage. She strayed from the husband she claimed to love, and from the senseless way she had been living. Almost without thought, Cheryl strayed onto the 1100-mile Pacific Crest Trail, and with no previous hiking experience she hoofed it from California to Oregon.
I suppose I should apologize for such inexcusable literary opportunism, abusing, or exploiting, a hokey last name like that. Had Strayed been the author’s true birth name, I wouldn’t have done so, but since it’s a name she actually chose—and it’s one of the things about this woman I couldn’t help but look down on—I just couldn’t resist. Because she’s so open and honest in her writing there’s a lot more to poke fun at—but as it turns out, there’s just as much to admire, even love.
As of today, January 30th, Amazon lists 1382 reviews of Wild on their site, most awarding the book four out of five stars, none less than three. It helps that Wild is an Oprah selection, but even if it wasn’t this book would still generate a great deal of interest. When was the last time you read an outdoor adventure story written by a woman? And because it’s by a woman, there are many more levels to the story than rugged adventure. The author’s life events, her feelings and insights, strengths and weaknesses, hopes and dreams are woven almost seamlessly into heart-stopping encounters with rattlesnakes, bears, and the quirky people she meets on the trail. It adds up to a fascinating, gripping memoir.
One Amazon writer did a fantastic job on her review, and I highly recommend reading it. I’m not sure I agree with all of her analysis, though; she says that Strayed “speaks for so many women who have suffered similar insults and assaults and have never had such an articulate writer to tell their story.” I didn’t see the book this way, not as a universal female story at all. Though more than just adventure, at its heart the book still is a tale of adventure. For someone like me who’s averse to physical exertion, this kind of book offers transcendence. Never in my wildest dreams would I attempt or even want to attempt a rigorous journey like hiking the PCT–but because I’m averse to living it, I love reading it. I particularly love that another woman did it.
Cheryl Strayed dared step into the unknown, handling every challenge that arose so well she survived more or less intact. She even waited another 15 years to tell her story, proving she didn’t do it just so she could write the book. (So many people do things like that nowadays.) I probably have no right to feel proud of Cheryl, but in some crazy sisterly way I do. This woman did something extraordinary, and she deserves all the accolades she’s getting for it.