Cheryl Strayed

Wild, Cheryl StrayedCheryl Strayed

Public opinion has it right this time: Wild is a terrific book. Cheryl Strayed’s no-holds-barred narrative style keeps you glued to the page, and she has an unforgettable story to tell.

Four years after the death of her mother, consumed by sorrow and loss, Strayed sets out to hike the newly created Pacific Crest Trail . . . 1,100 miles of it. She’s never backpacked before. She doesn’t have a clue what she’s doing (“I was a big fat idiot”), and she drags along so much gear that she can barely stand under its weight.

That overstuffed backpack, dubbed Monster, becomes a symbol for the grief she is carrying. Even the new name she adopts reflects her inner state. She has strayed from everything familiar, into a territory that daily threatens to annihilate her.

She loses toenails. She copes with snowburn, dehydration, landslides, rattlesnakes. “Bruises that ranged in color from yellow to black lined my arms and legs, my back and rump, as if I’d been beaten with sticks. My hips and shoulders were covered with blisters and rashes, inflamed welts and dark scabs where my skin had broken open from being chafed by my pack.” And when one of her hiking boots sails over a cliff, she hurls its mate after it, wraps duct tape around her battered feet, and hobbles on.

There is a fierce luminosity to Strayed’s writing, as if the trail had burned away everything extraneous—“a sort of scorching cure”—and left her transparent. She is desperate and driven and wholly present in the moment, with a Zenlike clarity. As she grapples with the mysterious, sacred adventure that is her life, the big fat idiot transforms into a “hard-ass motherfucking Amazonian queen.”

You’ll be pulling for her, every rocky step of the way.

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