At the age of twenty-six, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s rapid death from cancer, her family grew apart and her marriage soon crumbled. With seemingly nothing to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to walk eleven-hundred miles of the west coast of America – from the Mojave Desert, through California and Oregon, and into Washington state – and to do it alone. She had no experience of long-distance hiking and the journey was nothing more than a line on a map. But it held a promise – a promise of piecing together a life that lay in ruins at her feet. Strayed’s account captures the agonies – both physical and mental – of her incredible journey; how it maddened and terrified her, and how, ultimately, it healed her. Wild is a brutal memoir of survival, grief and redemption: a searing portrayal of a life at its lowest ebb and its highest tide.
I always know a book is special when I read it in two days. From the intriguing walking boot with the pink laces on the cover and the gripping description on the back cover of Wild, I knew it was a book which was going to be hard to put down. Of course, there was the other factor: the subject matter being very close to my heart, having, like the author, lost my mum to cancer when I was in my early twenties. This wasn’t going to be an easy read.
Half afraid of the emotions Cheryl Strayed’s words were going to stir within me, I sat down and started to read. I was hooked immediately. For two days I ignored my family and felt as though I walked every step of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) with the author. Yes, it is that powerful.
This is a brilliantly written memoir which takes an incredible experience and, in the safe hands of an extremely talented writer, allows the reader to follow that experience and journey with her. Strayed doesn’t hold back. She shares the deepest, darkest moments from this period of her life, not only talking about the harrowing circumstances of her mother’s death, but how this caused the rest of her life to fall apart as she spirals into a destructive cycle of heroin use and casual relationships. Ultimately, the experience leads to the breakdown of her marriage and the decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail – alone.
From terrifying encounters with bulls, bears and snakes, to peaceful moments of quiet, heart-wrenching reflection, to the physical challenge of lifting her monstrous backpack, to meeting other hikers on the trail who become both her inspiration and her friends, this is a memoir which moves at pace and keeps the reader turning the page. Although it is an extremely personal, private story, Wild never feels like naval-gazing, or preaching, as so many memoirs can and, like any good story – real or imagined – you are always rooting for the central character.
Wild touches on many aspects of life – relationships, marriage, grief, being in the wilderness – and readers have been drawn to, and moved, by Cheryl’s experiences for many different reasons. Undoubtedly, one of her most famous ‘fans’ is Oprah Winfrey who, after reading the book, was so moved that she decided to re-start her book club. With Oprah’s endorsement, the book soared to No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list, where it stayed for 9 weeks. Wild is currently being published in 30 countries worldwide.
Yes, I cried like a child, but there are also moments of gentle humour and gritty determination in Wild which made me laugh and smile. This is a book you don’t want to end, but when it does, you simply cannot help but stand up and applaud Cheryl Strayed, the bereaved daughter, for reaching the end of her incredible journey, and Cheryl Strayed, the writer, for typing ‘The End’.
Cheryl Strayed is the author of Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar (which will be published in the UK and Ireland in May 2013) and the novel Torch. Her stories and essays have appeared in numerous magazines and journals. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Wild was selected as the first book choice in Oprah’s Bookclub 2.0 and was a number one New York Times bestseller. It is now available in Ireland and the UK from all good bookshops. See www.cherylstrayed.com for more information and for a fascinating trailer for the book, narrated by the author.