Cheryl Strayed’s new memoir...pretty much obliterated me. I was reduced, during her book’s final third, to puddle-eyed cretinism. I like to read in coffee shops, and I began to receive concerned glances from matronly women, the kind of looks that said, 'Oh, honey.' It was a humiliation. To mention all this does Ms. Strayed a bit of a disservice, because there’s nothing cloying about Wild It’s uplifting, but not in the way of many memoirs, where the uplift makes you feel that you’re committing mental suicide. This book is as loose and sexy and dark as an early Lucinda Williams song. It’s got a punk spirit and makes an earthy and American sound ... The clarity of Ms. Strayed’s prose, and thus of her person, makes her story, in its quiet way, nearly as riveting an adventure narrative as Jon Krakauer’s...Into the Wild and Into Thin Air. ... Parts of this frank and witty book belong in Best American Sex Writing 2013. ... The lack of ease in [Strayed's] life made her fierce and funny; she hammers home her hard-won sentences like a box of nails. The cumulative welling up I experienced during Wild was partly a response to that too infrequent sight: that of a writer finding her voice, and sustaining it, right in front of your eyes.
Yes, [Strayed] has a film deal and yes, Wild has its share of fierce fauna, bad men with knives and extreme physical privation. But what makes her account of a solitary 1,000-mile trek along the Pacific Crest Trail...so special is its serious analysis of what being alone in the wild really means ... You don’t expect hardcore wilderness writing to contain steamy sex scenes, but that’s just another quirk that makes this extraordinary book unique. Beneath the noisy thrills, however, there’s something sad and solemn: an absolute aloneness that must be faced before Strayed can move on with life ... The woman who emerges from the wilderness is scarred and strong and ready for life, and her inspirational account of a transformative journey is truly wild: dirty, beautiful and serene.
In this hugely entertaining book, Cheryl Strayed takes the redemptive nature of travel – a theme as old as literature itself – and makes it her own ... Mostly, Strayed saw no one, but she is good on the peculiar intimacy one strikes up on chance encounters in strange parts, and the camaraderie on the trail, when freeze-dried noodles, Elastoplast and news of fresh snowfalls are exchanged in long nights around the camp fire. I enjoyed those passages immensely. Similarly, she writes well about the relationship one has with books when alone and travelling ... Wild tracks the physical changes as a body gets turned inside out in three months, and more interestingly, the prose reveals Strayed's return to sanity ... Sex is a leitmotif ... Sex is one of the last taboos in women's travel writing, and I have noticed that male reviewers tend not to like it. They know, I hope, where they can stick their dislike, and well done Cheryl Strayed. Despite the Wagnerian tempests that led to the journey, a quiet dignity inhabits the heart of this book ...There are longueurs in the story and stylistic infelicities in the prose. But she lobs in lots of yeasty direct speech to keep the book, like the journey, on the road. I can't wait for the film.
Tragic notes that a less skillful writer would draw out — a heroin addiction, an unintended pregnancy and abortion, a string of extramarital affairs — are struck quickly and ruthlessly ... [Strayed] holds nothing back ... Or rather, if she’s holding anything back, it was a wise choice, because what made it onto the page is almost unbearably sad and true. Delving any deeper into her breathtaking, body-shaking sadness might hurt us too much. Strayed comes off as a total screw-up and a wise person at the same time, perhaps because she has the ineffable gift every writer longs for of saying exactly what she means in lines that are both succinct and poetic ... Some memoirs make the steps between grief and healing so clear that the path seems easy for readers to follow. Strayed, on the contrary, respects mystery. She knows that her hike revived her soul but doesn’t pretend to understand, minute by minute, exactly how that happened. No epiphanies here, no signs from the gods. Just a healthy respect for the uncertainty we all live with, and an inborn talent for articulating angst and the gratefulness that comes when we overcome it.
This is both an adventure story and an extended meditation on loss ... Brave seems like the right word to sum up this woman and her book. The arc may be familiar - it's not hard to guess whether the ending will be redemptive - but Strayed's journey is exceptional, her voice clear and resonant. And she did not embark on her hike in order to write a memoir, but endured an experience that lingered in her memory and proved worth writing about. By the end, it's clear why a 1,100-mile hike solo through the wilderness was exactly what she needed. Throughout this captivating book, the universe hears her pleas, time and again meeting her needs, taking care of her. Or maybe it's Mother Nature. Strayed never makes this parallel overt, but it's clear that when she lost one mother, she placed her trust in this other one, and was not disappointed.
Cheryl Strayed's Wildis nothing if not visceral: from the harrowing scene in which she and her brother have to put down a horse, to the state of Strayed's feet when mutilated by too-small boots, her in-your-face narration is completely immersive; a dynamic reading sensation that belies the fact that these events are two decades old ... It is thanks to Strayed's cogent, generous voice that Wild retains its direction, never losing itself in murky personal-growth territory.
In the end, the journey does transform Strayed – and a central strength of Wild is that the reader viscerally experiences this transformation along with her. A memoir that is by turns harrowing, lyrical and funny, Wild may benefit from Strayed's distance from the material. Now in her early 40s, she is more often gently wry about her 26-year-old self than emotionally overwrought. Her restraint makes the tragic moments all the more heart-rending ... Strayed is ultimately a writer for whom symbolism is essential, and she confers upon her backbreaking ordeal the metaphysical trappings of a quest story ... So beneath – or perhaps above – a gritty account of physical hardship is the age-old story of a hero who enters the depths of the woods, endures many trials there, and emerges at last with a light to give to the world. In this particular case, that light is this book.
Wild is Ms. Strayed's vivid, touching and ultimately inspiring account of a life unraveling and of the journey that put it back together ... In Wild, she is candid about her anger at her mother for dying, her infidelities during her marriage and her slide into heroin use. But the darkness is relieved by self-deprecating humor as she chronicles her clueless hiking expedition and the rebirth it helped to inspire ... Wild easily transcends the hiking genre, though it presents plenty of details about equipment ordeals and physical challenges. Anyone with some backpacking experience will find Ms. Strayed's chronicle especially amusing ... Ms. Strayed is honest about the tedium of hiking but also alert to the self-discovery that can be stirred by solitude and self-reliance ... Pathos and humor are her main companions on the trail, although she writes vividly about the cast of other pilgrims that she encounters.
A profound and moving pilgrimage through the wilderness of grief, Cheryl Strayed’s Wild is one of the best American memoirs to emerge in years ... Painfully funny and honest, Strayed documents the sheer stupidity of her early days on the trail, when her pack weighs upwards of 70 pounds and she fills her camp-stove with the wrong kind of gas ... On the PCT, the loneliness of grief evolves into a visionary state of solitude ... Wild is never simply a survival memoir, although it offers up many a thrilling incidents...to compel the reader’s attention. It is also a guidebook for living in the world, introducing a vibrant new American voice with a deceptively simple message: Go outside and take a hike.
It is this voice—fierce, billowing with energy, precise—that carries Wild ... In it, there is room for emotional breakdowns on the PCT; longings for Snapple lemonade that one imagines rival the ones she previously reserved for drugs; descriptions of the beauty, misery, and danger—not to mention moose and rattlesnakes—she encountered on her 100-day walk. By turns both devastating and glorious, Strayed uses it to narrate her progress and setbacks on the trail and within herself ... By laying bare a great unspoken truth of adulthood—that many things in life don’t turn out the way you want them to, and that you can and must live through them anyway—Wild feels real in ways that many books about 'finding oneself,' including Eat, Pray, Love and all its imitators, do not ... Strayed waited close to 20 years to publish her story, and it shows ... she never writes from a place of desperation in the kind of semi-edited purge state that has marred so many true stories in recent years. Such fine control over so many unfathomable, enormous experiences was no doubt hard-won, and much of it clearly came long after Strayed’s days on the PCT were over.
Wild is an inspirational story—well written, and presented with great courage and depth. But this book is much more than a long walk up and down a trail. It is more than the beauty and danger of nature, the details lovingly remembered and chronicled, transporting us up and down the worn dirt path. And it is more than an ode to a dead mother ... There is humor and laughter on the trail, there are sexual longings and conquests, there are tense moments where we wonder if the author will survive the elements, make it through the snow, find water, and repair her damaged and torn feet. Whatever reason brings you to Cheryl Strayed and Wild, the journey will wring every possible emotion from you, and deposit you at the Bridge of the Gods, to contemplate your own mortality, your current state of family and contentment, and the beauty and possibilities that surround us everywhere—every day of our precious lives.
With its vivid descriptions of beautiful but unforgiving terrain, Wild is certainly a cinematic story, but Strayed’s book isn’t really about big, cathartic moments. The author never 'finds herself' or gets healed. When she reaches the trail’s end, she just buys a cheap ice cream cone and continues down the road. 'When you’re actually out there, taking one step after the other, it’s not romantic,' she says now. Maybe not, though it’s hard to imagine anything more important than taking one boring step at a time. That’s endurance, and that’s what Strayed understands, almost 20 years later. As she writes: 'There was only one [option], I knew. There was always only one. To keep walking.' ... A rich, riveting true story...
Unlike the film with Reese Witherspoon, based on Nick Hornby’s script, there are longueurs, but Strayed enlivens her memoir with affectionate descriptions of fellow pilgrims. Little of the style of her eclectic trail reading – Faulkner, Joyce, Adrienne Rich – seeps into her writing, but she is painfully honest and comes to a deep knowledge of the powerful experience of being alone in the wild.
... pivots with unflinching honesty around the author’s loss of her mother to lung cancer when Strayed was 22 ... Wild is at the height of its power when Strayed confronts her demons with clear-eyed intensity, allowing for the heartbreaking messiness of life to be just that ... In walking, and finally, years later, in writing, Strayed finds her way again. And her path is as dazzlingly beautiful as it is tragic.
The elevator-pitch for Wild is that it's the story of a young, emotionally messed-up woman who decides to hike the PCT and does so without any substantive hiking knowledge or prior experience. That's the plot. And that plot is riveting. Wild is a page turner, a classic adventure tale full of wilderness dangers and physical hardships and sweeping vistas which Strayed heart-achingly renders in her clean, clear-eyed prose. This is a good read. A damn fine read. But it's something more than that, too. It has a purpose beyond the tales of bears and rattlesnakes and water filters and blisters ... Strayed is telling us more than just the details of how she managed to hike a thousand-plus miles. She's revealing to us (between her words and inside her words and around her words) a truth about ourselves and the strengths we may not even know we contain ... The result is so meaningful that the end made me cry.
In this detailed, in-the-moment re-enactment, [Strayed] delineates the travails and triumphs of...three grueling months ... Her account forms a charming, intrepid trial by fire, as she emerges from the ordeal bruised but not beaten, changed, a lone survivor.
Strayed’s writing admirably conveys the rigors and rewards of long-distance hiking ... A candid, inspiring narrative of the author’s brutal physical and psychological journey through a wilderness of despair to a renewed sense of self.