Friday, February 21, 2014

A swashing and a martial

Because more than a few people suggested it to me, I finally read Wild. It was funny. It was predictable, even though as one person's journey to find herself it was unique: nature retreat stories all have a similar undercurrent, and this one was no different.

What I did like about it was the fact that it was a memoir of a woman who took off on her own, for her own reasons, to prove something to herself and no one else. (I like it because I'm currently plotting my own hiking trips in Wales, but I plan to try and drag The Planning Committee if I can.)

What I can't believe is that she did it with basically no hiking experience or basic gear knowledge. It's both incredibly amazing and incredibly stupid, because people die every year on shorter, more basic hikes for doing the same thing. Maybe that's part of the life lesson, though: that luck plays a bigger role in our ups and downs than we like to admit.

The chapters where she first leaves her motel at the starting point had me rolling with laughter: going to extreme acrobatic lengths to turtle yourself into your super-heavy, really big hiking pack? Been there! I totally understood the small descriptions of trail life for beginners. Constantly being one of the only women on the trail (see also: sports team, online communications staff)? Been there! Totally understand both the fury at the belittling comments and the internal pride of trusting your own skills and sticking through it.

I didn't really get a full sense of Cheryl Strayed as a person, though: just as a reflection of events that happen to her, rather than her mental (and, one can infer, quasi-spiritual) journey. It's a little problematic, because if her hike on the Pacific Crest Trail is supposed to be a balm for her wounded life, it would have been better to have greater insight into her psyche at the start of it. She does a great job of painting her pre-PCT life as an overgriefed, oversexed, and overdrugged whirlwind - beginning with the sudden death of her mother from cancer, and continuing on to her string of affairs that eventually lead to her divorce. But what kept bugging me was the lack of insight into the very character and being she supposedly lost in this downward spiral.

In a way, Wild reminded me of The Wanderer, the Sharon Creech young adult story about a girl who sails with her male cousins and uncles across the Atlantic in a sailboat.

As with Strayed's memoir, it didn't quite capture the personality of the protagonist - and as a result, couldn't entire relate or even like her. Sophie, the girl, is braver and smarter than the boys in some respects, and the history of her adoption is told impassively. Sophie herself seems detached from events in her own life before the sailing trip. And though half the book is told in first person, the reader doesn't quite understand why she keeps lying to her family about stories their grandfather in England never told her.

In both cases, I closed the book jacket disappointed, wanting to be able to see the story through the figurative eyes of the female characters themselves. But I really just saw it from the vantage point of a third person. Though I really, really appreciate these stories about females finding identity in a male-dominated arena, in the end sometimes they end up masking the heroine's true voice even more. It can be annoying.

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