Wild by Cheryl Strayed

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Visiting the Pacific north coast of America is on my bucket-list. Not exactly sure why… it might have started when I had to do an in-depth investigation on the Douglas fir at uni  (I did a couple of forestry subjects as part of my hydrology studies). Anyway, it’s this bucket-list item that prompted me to read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild.

Actually, to be perfectly frank, I’d avoided Wild because I thought it was going to be all look-at-me-Eat-Pray-Love-Oprah-is-raving-about-it but when it popped up on an audio list I figured I could just listen to the Oregon bits and abandon the rest if Strayed was giving me the pip.

I was wrong.

Firstly, there’s not many Oregon bits. Although the main Oregon bit is about this place and it’s obviously spectacular.

Secondly, Wild is not really so much about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail as it is about grief. And sure, maybe there was a tiny bit of look-at-me in there but Strayed is frank, honest and I didn’t feel like she was garnering sympathy.

“The thing about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, the thing that was so profound to me that summer, and also like most things, so very simple, was how few choices I had and how often I had to do the thing I least wanted to do. How there was no escape or denial. No numbing it down with a martini or covering it up with a roll in the hay.”

Thirdly, I expected Strayed would be more self-indulgent (again, the EPL factor) – the idea of a ‘journey’, both physical and emotional, is so cringey. And yet, it wasn’t*.

“Every part of my body hurt, except my heart.”

Lastly, I didn’t skip through any part of this book and didn’t even consider it for a moment. Strayed’s counter-narrative – the events surrounding the death of her mother – fit in around the details of sore feet, freeze-dried food and unexpected snow falls. As the seasons change on the Trail, so too does Strayed’s emotional state – sounds corny but it’s actually nicely balanced.

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3.5/5 Yes, I’m going to watch the movie.

Cheryl is given an Hawaiian screwdriver – it’s heaven.

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*Others disagree. I came across a blog that vehemently opposes everything Cheryl Stayed says, picking apart her memoir chapter by chapter. I’m not going to link to it because I figure someone who has gone to that much angry effort probably has a fair bit going on. If you’re desperate, google ‘I hate Cheryl Strayed’.

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10 responses

  1. This is one I kept putting off as well (although I haven’t read Eat, Pray, Love either) but my friend keeps pushing me to read it. I keep wanting to see the movie so will definitely have to read it first. 🙂 Great review.

    • I think any memoir has an element of self-indulgence. Eat Pray Love pushed the boundaries of self-indulgence to new extremes and I detested it (only read the Eat section and then threw it across the room).

      I had resisted Wild because I figured it was another ‘privileged white lady finding herself’ story. It wasn’t. At the heart is a tribute to Strayed’s mother.

      Will be interested in your thoughts if you get to reading it and I’m looking forward to seeing how the movie is done given that the book is so much about reflection and looking back over history as opposed to walking the trail.

  2. Oh man – now you have my curious about the I hate Cheryl Strayed blogger.

    I loved Wild and did not love Eat, Pray, Love…except the Italy section b/c of all the food writing. And, love Strayed’s outlook in Tiny Beautiful Things as well…so non-judgey.

  3. I liked Wild, too. It took me back to some of the confusion of youth, though I never had to grapple with such grief. If what she’s said about her trek is true, Strayed didn’t start out on that journey to write a book out of it, which is a major difference between her book and Gilbert’s. And I think it shows. Great review!

  4. I read Tiny Beautiful Things and thought it was absolutely amazing, and would like to read Wild (though probably not see the movie, funnily enough! I think it’s harder to do it in a non-EPL way on screen.) The Cheryl Strayed hater obviously has WAY too much time on his (I’m just guessing…) hands…

  5. Ive seen the film version – much better than I expected though I did wonder what had been left out. She never has any sickness nor injury (except to the feet through ill fitting shoes) which seems rather strange given the length of time it took her and the arduous nature of the journey. Maybe that is in the book?

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