In his sweeping personal account of depression, anxiety, addiction, and childhood trauma, Thompson brings readers on a journey to discover what it means to be not just an ultramarathoner but also a human being ... In many ways, Thompson’s memoir is a celebration of what it means to be alive. Between harrowing stories of checking himself into a psychiatric hospital, attempting to take his own life, buying eight balls of cocaine, and fighting to return to some semblance of normalcy, he brings us back to Tahoe ... What’s unique about Thompson’s story, in the sea of memoirs about running, is the depth of his honesty. Thompson is unafraid to tell the reader when everything is awful. He emphasizes the dark parts of his life in tandem with the dark parts of running, encouraging readers almost to give way to the darkness in order to fully appreciate the light. Thompson paints an incredibly detailed picture of himself that lets readers inside his head. Even though he seems superhuman for running so many miles, readers come to understand Thompson’s complexity and his desire to be alive as the driving forces for his running. The transformation Thompson goes through over the course of the memoir is tangible ... a story readers won’t forget for a long time.
The Tahoe 200, broken up into increasingly exhausted stages, provides a framework for the narrative of his earlier, traumatized life. It’s a promising approach, but Thompson is coy about the details of what happened to him, interspersed in a nonlinear fashion. Sometimes that’s his only choice, since his memory is imperfect. Other times it feels like a deliberate vagueness, meant to tease us until he gets over the next ridge ... Ultimately the memoir, like the race itself, is an erratic slog ... Memoirs are by nature the stuff of self-indulgence. But that’s for the first and second drafts, not the one the reader receives.
In this book, the unconscious becomes conscious, the forgotten is recalled, and feelings become thoughts ... Much less a running book than a psychological self-interrogation ... A therapist might grant that revisiting the minute details of childhood serves as a healing process, but readers may be less patient with Thompson’s tireless self-examination, which sometimes crosses into self-indulgence. But if that is the price of the author’s keen insight into the psyche and the profound observations of which he is capable, so be it ... Like a long run, there are difficult stretches along the way, but in the end, they’re worth the reward.