Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Book Review - Cheryl Strayed's Wild

Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Published by: Knopf
Publication Date: March 20th, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 315 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy
Cheryl Strayed had a tough yet somewhat idyllic upbringing in Minnesota. Her two siblings and her and their mom and her stepfather and a little plot of land to call their own in the far north. In Cheryl's final semester of school her mother got Cancer and died. Cheryl's life spun wildly out of control. She not only lost her mother, but her connection to her siblings, her step-father and finally her husband divorced her. A combination of grief, promiscuity and drugs will do that. Cheryl latched onto this idea of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail through California to Oregon as some sort of penance. Once she did this her life would be ready to get on track. She could maybe finish college, kick heroin, leave behind the countless men and the abortion she had and start anew. The PCT was going to be her salvation. A hard trek over dangerous terrain, where bears, foxes, wolves and snow would all be encountered. She thought she was ready for it, but the trail challenged her in ways she didn't expect.

Firstly she packed way too much, her backpack being affectionately called monster. Her shoes where to small and she wasn't keeping the pace she had expected too. Soon she had to result to detours to avoid all the areas of the Trail that where snowed in. She went through many hardships of not having enough money on her detours, having not expected to encounter them. But on the trail and at the rest stops, she became friends with other hikers in the close knit community of the PCT. All the while, as her feet marked mile after mile, she thought about all that had happened to get her here. The husband she let go, her mother's horse that she had to put down, how she was headed nowhere but the next mile and the next mile. Yet all would be worth it once she reached the Bridge of the Gods and her journey was over, minus most of her toenails.

I am not a non-fiction reader. If I read non-fiction it has most likely been for school or because it was some funny celebrity memoir. This wasn't either. This was a book club pick, thankfully picked before Oprah, I will not go into this now, but me and Oprah, we have issues. Wild was interesting in that I hate Cheryl, I really truly hate her, yet I was compelled to keep reading. She is not a nice person, at least that's what I feel like having read the book, and, I'm sorry, but if you're not likable in your autobiography, then you're probably not likable. She has too many self esteem issues. Not only is she promiscuous, be she truly believes that every man she encounters wants her. So much of her journey seems to be getting herself away from the world of temptation, that when she does hook up at what was originally going to be her final destination, the "romance" of the moment is lost in the, "you dumb bitch, not again" that was coming from my mouth. Also, as to her heroin addiction... um, heroin isn't that easy to kick. I'm injecting today, tomorrow I'll be on the trail and not feel any signs of withdrawal. Ok Cheryl, sure.

Also, this is a book about her hike around these beautiful panoramas and vistas, a journey where she clearly states she has a camera... why are there no pictures? Not a one! Is it because all the men reading it would want her? Now just to start piling on the things that pissed me off, I should mention that there where people in my book club who hated her so much they didn't bother to finish the book. Let's start with Cheryl's last name. When I read that her last name was "Strayed" I was like, that has got to be some lame pretentious made up name... yes and no. She made it up, but it's legally hers. What kind of writer is so pretentious as to pick strayed as their name? Gah, just, gah. Then, why this book now? I mean, this happened when I was in high school. The whole book felt dated. The references to OJ Simpson and Jerry Garcia... did you really need money so bad that you finally wrote this book? Also, her upbringing I think made it easier to adjust to trail life, she didn't have running water for years in Minnesota, so she doesn't really cover her upbringing as being trail compatible. The ending felt rushed. I mean, total in depth detail all the way to the Oregon border and then Oregon was over, woosh.

Yet none of this, not one single thing made me hate the book as to what she did with some of her mothers ashes, even the toenails didn't do it. She found a nice big bone chip and ate it! That's right, she ate her mother. This wasn't a metaphor, this was gross reality. All I kept thinking was that her thinking of "now my mother will always be with me" was so flawed, because, now, you are going to shit out your mother. Some of your mother will be down a pipe somewhere after you fucked someone or shot up, and your mother will be there. I was so revolted that if I hadn't decided I hated her already, this would have pushed me over the edge, it brought the book down a full star as it stands. Just icky! This whole book could have been better served as a series of short stories where her mother eating tendencies where left out.

A final note to Knopf. An istock picture ISN'T A COVER! All you did was cut out the other boot, with a bad clipping path I might add if you look closely at the cover. Sure, these look like her description of her boots, but couldn't you have taken your own picture? Or how about a picture of Cheryl on the PCT as the cover? How about any kind of originality of any kind please!?!


I was startled at the end to realize the time frame of the journey, given the immediacy of the writing. I plan on looking into her other books. She seems a great writer with loads of potential.
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I agree, it was weird that the book's events took place so long ago.

Do you know that you are first in line when one googles "Cheryl Strayed's boots", "Images"?

That is freakin' awesome John! Thanks for pointing that out!

Great review. Funny and sharp -- just like Dorothy Parker.

I was lead to your site while searching for evidence to support my opinion that most of this book is a fraud. As you point out, it starts on the cover.

I believe that she originally wrote and floated this book as a novel and this is how it went down:

Alfred A. Knopf: is this book based on a true story?

Cheryl Strayed (threw up in my mouth a little when I wrote that name): Wellll... sorta, kinda, maybe...

Alfred A. Knopf: Okay, a memoir it is, then!

Case in point: I live about ten miles from where she resumes her hike at Sierra City. She says she hiked forty one miles in four days to the junction above Packer Lake Lodge. Actual distance is about eight miles, to be generous.

I have more to say in this regard but I have to prove I'm not a robot every minute or so and I'm a slow writer, so I'll leave it at this: Pics or it didn't happen.

Book held my interest, though. So it's got that going for it, which is nice.

Oops, "led" not "lead" at beginning of second paragraph. Hate when I do that.

I actually was wondering that a bit too. We have so little photographic evidence, especially in the book itself, the movie (which I begrudgingly saw) had more real pictures... but still, it's not out of the realm of plausibility! Reese might have hiked more then Cheryl ever did :P

Thanks for the Dorothy compliment!

Great line about Reese hiking more than Cheryl. Guess as an official "Wild" curmudgeon, I'll have to see the movie as well. As for photos, I don't think it's going too far out on the conspiracy theory limb to think that Hollywood could have fabricated them. They're starting to get the hang of that sort of thing (snark), e.g., the CGI fox with phony, Canadian Rockies-esque background (gleaned from screen capture I saw in the New Yorker film review).

I'm curious, as a Bad Ass Madisonion Queen (that is, Midwesterner), were you able to notice that the scene of her walking through the desert in early June was actually shot in September? The sea of rabbit brush she's walking through is the high desert version of fall foliage -- starts blooming in August and goes out of bloom (as depicted in the movie and on the latest book cover) in September. The Wisconsin equivalent would be a movie showing red maples where there should be lilacs.

Petty point of the day: Calling her pack Monster was so obvious and uncreative. Besides, monsters are not necessarily large. She was literary, how about Gargantua?

Okay, coffee finished -- time to get busy. By the way, I figured out that I should write my comment first, THEN prove I'm not a robot. I'm a big fat idiot!

Oh, I'm a graphic designer, I could totally fake those photos myself! I remember reading when they filmed it that it was fall, so that makes sense about the brush, but totally takes away from the reality of the film, something that always irks me, esp. when they're having to add snow to green trees, that is the worst!

I agree about Monster! Esp. as I went to another movie last night and had to wait in line outside for about an hour and I was opposite the Wild poster for the whole hour just looking at Monster, blurg.

The thing I REALLY want answers to is why did this book come out so many years after the events. Because that stuck me so odd. Perhaps waiting for internet technology and photoshop to catch up and let her make something look like it happened when it didn't?

I found this interesting article, which also made me remember, was her book subsidized by REI and Snapple?

I can't believe that you respond to my posts point by point -- my friends don't even do that. Thank you.

I know you're a graphic artist. I looked at your work -- very nice. Waiting to see your store and Etsy page.

Read the interesting Hollywood vs History page. Nick Hornby's 'High Fidelity' was my favorite book of that era. I remember seeing the movie and thinking, that's exactly how I pictured it! Think they got an Oscar for best screen adaptation of a book. That being said, is a Brit the best choice for what is, in large part, a western? Wish they had consulted me. (My movie claim to fame was once having almost killed Corbin Bernsen by spraying water on a boardwalk, on which he was about to do a daring motorcycle scene -- no stuntmen for him. Apparently, one of the tricks of the trade is to spray down scenes to make the colors pop. Kind of like putting a stone underwater. I got carried away and hit the boardwalk. I slunk into the background when Corbin hit the ground and they started looking for the culprit. Got the job because a friend of mine commuted to Hollywood to work as a grip and picked up jobs for us when they sometimes shot locally.)

I have another movie question ( because, really, do I want to spend two hours of my waning life hitting my head against a pole?). The H vs H site showed both Reese and Cheryl wearing a UC Berkeley t-shirt. I don't remember the shirt from the book. Does the movie explain how she got it? I have a theory based on my local experience, but I'll wait to see what you say.

My condolences about waiting for an hour in line next to Monster. Imagine they don't let people do that outdoors in Wisconsin these days?

Yeah... I gotta get on that Etsy page. There's just too much to do in a day! And thankfully they don't make us wait in line for movies anymore outside, that used to be horrible. It stopped sometime around the third LOTR's movie, before these extended Hobbit things that I just can't get into.

It's always interesting even with books based on history, what changes and what stays the same. Even if she did do the walk, I wonder how much is fictionalized, like looking at the article, in the movie and the book her mom died up in Minnesota, and she really died in St. Louis... hmmm I say.

As for Hornby, I think he was the perfect choice just because he was able to take a rambling book and give it some structure and interlink past and present through the use of song. That's what I like best about him, his musicality. I totally agree about High Fidelity, which is interesting because the setting was changed from England to US and it still translated better then most movies out there.

The movie doesn't explain the UC Berkley, and I think only the Marley shirt is mentioned in the book, and I'd love to hear your theory. Hey, and Corbin survived and went on to do the awesome Psych, so all is good. Though you are right, water makes colors pop AND stops dust from rising and interfering with the shot.

Okay, I'll shut up about the movie until I see it. You're right, how can Hornby and music be a bad thing. My plan for when it comes to Netflix is to purchase a six-pack of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, get two beers into it, pop my earbuds in, and press play, all the while continuing self-medication.

Regarding my movie career, I never thought of it that way: "The Man Who Saved Psych!" (By not killing Corbin Bernsen). Think I'll get a t-shirt made up. By the way, you must have been PSYCHed when Cary Elwes showed up.

My theory on the University of California Berkeley t-shirt story is that it was given to her by the two female college students in Quincy who she characterizes as ditzy -- "Wow, Yeah!, Yeah, Wow! -- and disses for dropping her off at an inconvenient spot. That's because the UCB Forestry Camp is less than a mile off the road to the PCT and is the only camp in the area. Also, I recognize the spot where the original photo was taken. Literally, hiked in the background of that shot taken just off the dirt road (she says it's paved) to "Whitehorse" campground (actually, Silver Lake Campground, whose name she changed because the ugly, mean, wrinkled-faced hosts from 1995 would probably hunt her down and kill her in her sleep for the trashing they took for what was most likely a non-event.)

I know she's trying to make the story flow, but again, aside from being mean-spirited, the physical facts are wrong. The PCT is not on the way to the camp, the camp is on the way to the PCT, which is miles further on. So the women having just finished grocery shopping in the average 90-degree Quincy July heat would have stopped to drop off the groceries before moving on. Grocery logistics notwithstanding, there's no way the students didn't offer her a shower and food and maybe even an overnight bunk. A friend of mine ran the place in 1995 and two other friends were the cooks. There are no meal passes and pretty much anybody can just show up -- I have, and I'm pretty sure Cheryl did. You can check out the place online. It's pretty much like a Hollywood set for a summer camp.

The "died in St. Louis" thing seemed promising, but the only reference I could find was CS denying it on her Facebook page. Link?

The St. Louis death was the beginning of that article I posted earlier, History vs. Hollywood.

I do think you need that t-shirt, STAT. I really liked Carey Elwes on Psych, though I still claim he was a thief all along and not in a secret branch of the British Secret Service, like the final episode of his stated, or implied...

I'm liking you T-Shirt theory, it is very sound. Esp. the groceries angle. I think that perhaps the "changed the names of people" in the book was more to cover her ass then to protect theirs... we must find these people and debunk her story! Things just don't add up the more you look at it.

Ha, saw your 'Jimmy the Groundhog biting the Mayor' clip -- very funny! There are two kinds of people in the world: those who see that and think, Oh, the poor mayor; and the other 90% who laugh their asses off. Hell is going to be crowded.

This is a good time to ask if you got my Bill Murray 'Groundhog Day' reference upthread? You may already know this, but the way to use that meme in your case would be to list some disappointing aspects of your life like "haven't finished my Etsy page" , etc., followed by, "but my website comes up first when you google "Cheryl Strayed's boots"! Then you add Bill's deadpan tagline: "So I've got that going for me, which is nice."

Have read your review a few times now and find it smarter and funnier with each reading. You have a definite "voice". So much more alive and entertaining than the following sentimental, gushing claptrap:

"One of the best books I've read in the last five or ten years... WILD is angry, brave, sad, self-knowing, redemptive, raw, compelling, and brilliantly written, and I think it's destined to be loved by a lot of people, men and women, for a long time."

Oh wait, that's Nick Hornby! Nick, you're using up a lot of goodwill on this one, pal. 'Funny Girl' better be good. (Okay, he got compelling and loved by a lot of people right.)

I give the mayor major props for continuing on. But then again he didn't see that mouth super extending to attack. I think I have to watch the video again... also, Bill Murray is a God, there's no two ways about it. I've actually been to Punxsutawney... of course they filmed the movie in Illinois... which is damn weird.

Thanks for getting my voice! As for Nick, can we blame him? Don't bite the hand that feeds you! I too have strong hopes for his new book.

Well, I was born in Scranton. So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

I first saw 'Wild' in a small but great bookstore that I frequent in Truckee, California called "The Bookshelf" (plug). Drawn by the boot (I'm a hiker), I picked it up, read the blurb and put it back -- not my cup of tea. A few weeks ago somebody plunked it down on my coffee table with a moderate recommendation, so in reasonably good faith I started in.

Alarm bells went off on the first page. What?! Your boot flipped off the trail and you threw the other one after it?! Nope! Nope! Nope!

At this point I didn't know where she was on the trail but being reasonably familiar with Sierran terrain, I couldn't picture where there would be trees below yet you couldn't retrieve a boot (This is not the Grand flippin' Canyon!).

Cut to where she restates and fleshes out the boot throwing prologue more than halfway through the book and she's just on a ledge above some trees -- not a cliff. The terrain in this area of the trail is very moderate and un-clifflike. (You can actually follow it by using Google Earth with a PCT overlay available on the government website for the trail.)

So, given the first boot was retrievable, how can we be expected to believe that an intelligent person just walks off and leaves them both behind? No, it was just a genius plot device (that kept ME reading to find out what happened).

Here's something I've never seen addressed: Are the boots still there? Can you imagine an "Expedition to Find Cheryl Strayed's Boots"?! Should be a little easier than raising the Titanic, given that it isn't underwater, she describes pretty well the general area where she was, and there can only be so many ledges that you can hang your legs off the edge with trees below. Ha, the problem is it's highly likely that they aren't there. You would think that with all the hoopla she would have already done this. If she has or when she does I will shut up about everything.

When you think of Scanton do you now hum The (American) Office theme?

I should have know not to read it based just on the Oprah recommendation, but I will always read a book for book club, and it's not the worst by far that I've read.

At least in the movie they made it very clear she couldn't get that boot back. Ah, but she could claim animals took them... or what they ARE there but everything happened to a different person who she stole the story from? Like Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter!

By Jove, I think you've got it, Miss Eliza! A stealer got it from a liar. Brilliant analysis! Hamish Macbeth got nothing on us, baby. (Extra credit for getting the embedded movie, literary, and music references. I know you'll get at least two of the four because you recently reviewed the book and came up with the other one yourself in your previous post.

Regarding boots, have you heard Dannner is coming out with a PCT version of Cheryl's with a patch featuring the overall mileage marker and Mt. Hood, to be available at REI? It's always good to follow the money with these things. On that note, I think we need to cash in. We could set up in the parking lot outside of her book signings selling "CHERYL STRAYED IS A BIG FAT LIAR!!! t-shirts -- I'll leave the graphics to you.

I think follow the money is the answer here! Soon Snapple will make a huge comeback!

And I really should get to work on those shirts. We discussed this in my book club this weekend (the lying not that shirt) and everyone agrees it's not just plausible but likely.

This is all you need to read. Start at the beginning.

I LOVE your blog bio! "I'm not a writer. I just hate Cheryl Strayed." Sheer perfection in under ten words.

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