Monday, September 10, 2012

Just Shelved

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest TrailWild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As anyone familiar with Strayed's advice column at The Rumpus, Dear Sugar, can tell you, Strayed has an immensely appealing voice--the kind that is emotional, but not cloying; generous, but not over-the-top.  I always love her columns, and several of them have brought tears to my eyes with their ability to truly address those in pain with understanding, wisdom, and what can only be described as love: the kind of love miraculous in its non-specificity.  The kind of love that only rare people feel for every other human who walks the earth. A kind of Gandhi Redux, if you will.

I am happy to report that this same appealing voice is present in Wild, Strayed's memoir about a transformative period of her life spent hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  Appealing, yes, and a book I finished in just a few sittings.  However, Wild pales considerably in comparison to memoirs and travelogues I've read recently that marshaled a more superlative power of description, a more expansive ability to draw conclusions, and an even rawer revelation of the self.  I don't think Strayed intends to enter the company of writers such as Patrick Leigh Fermor, W.G. Sebald, or Maggie Nelson (whose book, Bluets, is far more fractured in its method of excavating a festering emotional wound).  Nevertheless, I think a truly great tale of the road should illuminate all that is visible and something else--something less tangible, but important nevertheless.  They should illuminate something eternal, even within a landscape that is always in flux, or within memory, which is fluid by its very nature.

I'm not even sure what I am asking for...  Wild is a friend you would enjoy hiking with for the day.  The greatest writing on nature and voyages of self and world discovery are like Strayed's cherished copy of The Dream of a Common Language: those are the books that you cannot burn and leave behind, even when the hiking is done.

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