Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

I arrived at my mother's earlier in the week to visit with her, my Grandmother, and my sisters (in various permutations, as people came and went.) Almost as soon as I got here, Grandma got sick, and we've been taking care of her since then. (Nothing really awful, but everything is hard when you're in your 90s.)

One sister thrust this book at me and demanded that I read it before I left. I got a few chapters in, and looked up at her, and asked why she would make me read this.

Just don't read it in public, she replied. She wasn't referring to the quality. She was referring to the tears.

The first part of Wild was very hard to read, having lost our father almost two years ago. [Note: Three years ago, now] I remember some of these pains, these fears, these days and nights of vigil. I don't recognize other aspects, and I'm glad they are things I escaped. But we were loved by our father just the way Cheryl was by her mother - unconditionally. My mother continues to love us fiercely. I'm lucky to have that. I know that every day.

Cheryl Strayed loses her mother at 22, is divorced by 26, and lost. She decides, with little prep and more will than planning, to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. And she does.

I admired this book for refusing to make neat little narrative bows out of her life and experience. They felt messy and tangled and real, and sometimes things were learned, and sometimes they weren't, and the hard-won truths were not platitudes. Many times, they weren't even laid out in great detail. But after vicariously climbing the trail with Cheryl Strayed, I often felt I knew what they were.

If this was an easy story of how everything was fixed by a summer of walking, and how the open vistas opened her soul, or any other feel-good/mean-nothing crap, I wouldn't have enjoyed this book. But because it is about the experience, rather than fable of how she learned to be whole again, I did.

Life is this messy, and we do rotten things and the universe throws curveballs, and takes more than we can bear to give, and yet, we are. We persist.

(The one thing I didn't like were the back cover blurbs, which try to make this out as that easy-answer-through-physical struggle book I would have hated. Particularly the one about a "bad girl" trying to fix her life. This book embraces complexity far more than that, is brutally honest, and no one in it is simplistic enough to be summed up in two words.)

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