Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

At age twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed had lost her mother Bobbi to cancer, who she considered to be the love of her life. Her brother, sister, and step-father essentially drifted apart after Bobbi passed away and was the glued that held them together. Strayed became an heroine addict and cheated on her husband with multiple partners to the point where her confession led to their divorce. The trip alongside the Pacific Crest Trail is one of purging her spirit of things that had happened to her, and understanding how she ended up where she is by taking one long physically-emotionally exhausting path to do so.

Strayed provides a wonderful narrative of her life that is both broken and solid. There is a trend in Hollywood and literature that females are not considered adults, therefore have to baby up their language, sexuality, brains, and humor in order to gain a wider audience. Strayed had so much baggage it feels like you were wearing her overstuffed mountain gear along with her as she shares her experiences of cheating, her mother's death, and her family's undoing. So many of her passages emanate the loss of what she went through, and Strayed doesn't glamorize her experiences or push specific spiritual lessons for the readers. It's her journey and we're along for the ride. There is no beating around the bush with her blunders nor her desires, and I liked that Strayed is of a young adult woman's voice is - honest, tormented, humorous, grateful, and enlightened.

Such a major attraction to this memoir is the search for discovery through a singular experience with yourself, and not allowing obstacles in the form of addiction, broken family relationships, etc. stop you. Nature has a way of enveloping us into its arms, if we allow it do so, and Strayed's experience is one that allows us to see the possibilities of what a trip like this can offer us - the solitude, the resolutions, the inner reckoning. Way back when in the early eighties when audiences saw Top Gun (starring Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer) and immediately wanted to become an Army pilot, I read this book and won't be ashamed to say that I am inspired to do something similar - to take a trip somewhere and sort myself out. It is not to replicate Strayed's experience nor to see if trekking solo lives up to the idyllic poetic imagery this book served but more for my own sanity and thirst for adventure/self-reconciliation too. Going through a ton of shit myself, I envied and was emboldened by her choice to deal with her demons in this way. To be ignited enough in her life by her mistakes, the grief of her family, and emotional pain of her past to gain a clearer understanding of who she is.

One thing should be of note with this book is that Strayed's experience is extraordinarily rare. Using guidebooks and having zero experience to hike, this woman completed her mission entirely underplanned. Her boots were too small. She arranged for a friend to send her care packages with twenty dollars at different rest stops; often leaving her with only a few cents in her pocket to get between towns. It's easy to read this and think that she should have been more prepared, but we are living in a different age of technology with cellphones at fingertips. I can't criticize the choices Strayed made, but I think it's a fair warning to those who might be encouraged to read this review to consider your full range of options before trying a trek of this magnitude on your own or with friends. She made plenty of friends and acquaintances along her trip that helped her but many of them are occurrences where her life and physically well-being were in danger. To read her journey from beginning to end, it's almost unimaginable to comprehend how she survived.

The most poignant aspect is how Strayed deals with her mother's death and how it led to her abandoning herself through addictions to companionship, sexuality, drugs, and validation. Far from chick lit, or even chick flick, this book is a refreshing memoir and story of a woman who has muddled big time and needs to reconcile all the parts of her life that has become brutally undone. The story is as much as an adventurous trek as it is deep spiritual or personal reflection for Strayed. It easily became one of my favorite books of the year.

Coming to theatres in December 2014 starring Reese Witherspoon, I am so excited to see the adaptation of Wild in the coming months.  Directed by Jean-Marc VallĂ©e (The Dallas Buyers Club), and premiering during the Toronto Film Festival, has already garnered the movie rave reviews for Witherspoon. It's coming out on my birthday week, and I can't think of no other way of being excited to see it and go on the quest into the wild...except to plan my own excursion to take one day too.

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