This is a difficult book to review in that…I loved and hated it simultaneously. I love the journey she took. The fortitude and strength she developed to cross hundreds of miles alone through the wilderness. It made me ache to experience the solitude and beauty of nature in the way that she did.
Technically speaking, this book is well written. Vivid. It sucks the reader in with beautiful words and paints perfect pictures of what Cheryl Strayed faced on her over 1,000 mile hike across the Pacific Crest Trail. Her journey starts after her mother died fairly young from cancer. Or maybe it started before that as she lived the first six years of her life experiencing abuse from her father. Following her losses and a divorce (brought on by her infidelity, among other things), Cheryl made a spontaneous decision to strike out on her own on an unbelievable journey through the mountains of California and Oregon. And the experience was breathtaking.
But I despised her. Maybe that is extremely harsh. After all, she lost her mother and had a difficult childhood. But I didn’t feel it justified much of the repulsive behavior she indulged in. She slept with multiple strangers (one of these instances she does go into more detail than many readers may be comfortable with). As a result of one such tryst, she has an abortion and never shows the slightest remorse regarding this decision. Actually, the abortion is little more than a side blurb. But for me, this was perhaps the most significant thing she did that demanded eventual redemption…which I never felt was attained. She used heroin repeatedly as well as several other drugs. And left an amazing and loving husband to sleep with said strangers and use said heroin, all the while admittedly did not have a truly valid reason to do so…
I couldn’t stand her.
Honestly, she wasn’t pretentious about her shortcomings. She readily admitted to the mess that she was. But it was clear that for all the difficulties she’d faced as a child, she was also spoiled by her mother. Which may have lead to much of the behaviors she described.
The book did get better as it went along and we left behind the poor choices that drove her to hike the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) in the first place. She did eventually develop to some degree, although several obnoxious traits stuck with her (such as her almost teen-like infatuation with men that lead to diary-esque descriptions of all the males she happened to encounter). But, all-in-all, I DID like it more as I went along. Heck, I’ll might...might... watch the movie when it comes out on DVD (who doesn’t love Reese Witherspoon). But I found myself appreciating this book more for the unique challenges she faced on the trail and the play-by-play of her hiking experiences than I did for the challenges she overcame in her personal life.
Maybe part of the reason she disgusted me so much was that I’d just finished reading American Sniper and I’d been astounded by the humility, sacrifice, and courage Chris Kyle exemplified. Maybe it was because, even though she physically attained her goal, I never felt like she attained redemption for her wrong doings. Or even viewed them as wrong doings. As a matter of fact, at one point, she stated,
“’What if I forgave myself?’ I thought. ‘What if I forgave myself even
though I’d done something I shouldn’t have. What if I was a liar and
a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than it was
what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go
back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done?...What if
yes was the right answer instead of no? …What if I was never redeemed?
What if I already was?’”
Queue me throwing the book across the room at the nearest piece of innocent furniture and yelling, "But it's okay that you crushed your husband's heart and killed a child because that's what YOU needed to do?!?!"
While I entirely understand embracing pain as a personal journey that creates the person we were meant to be, I was abhorred at the fact she never acknowledged to the readers that she was wrong, wrong, wrong in many of the choices she had made. That she had destroyed relationships and undervalued people that loved her. I was abhorred by the selfishness she reveled in by embracing the wrongs she’d committed. Also, she was fixated on sex like a pubescent high school cheerleader. That’s just not my thing.
I would NOT recommend this book to young readers. Or anyone easily offended by subject matter. But I did enjoy this book over-all and would recommend reading it with an open-mind just knowing the reader may not appreciate all of the author’s decisions or mentalities. While the approach to life and wrongdoing in general held a very liberal, self-centered, liberal view, it was a fascinating read in that it paints an accurate picture of the life and mindset of many people we will rub shoulders with every day.
Parts of this book I hated. Parts of this book I loved.
But it will stick with me long after I put it down. And I suppose, for that reason, it was a well-written book.
P.S. I will NOT be supporting this movie in theater. My money is better spent elsewhere.