Seeing all the wildly positive (see what I did there?) reviews about this book, and feeling the need to represent the female gender in my reading list, I decided to read Cheryl Strayed‘s Wild. In fact, I got a review copy through The Southeast Review so I could write my own review of the book and, yes, it was wildly positive. I’ll link to it here in the future if the SER editors choose to use it. Hell, the book single-handedly inspired Oprah to resurrect her book club.
If SER Online doesn’t use it, well then I got a credit hour out of it anyway, and I got to see how one writer can write so concretely about emotion and experience while simultaneously rendering the trials and figures of her journey into metaphors about her own coming of age.
Wild is the story of a 26-year-old woman who retreats to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from the Mexican to the Canadian border, to grapple with the hardships of her life. But it’s about much more than that.
But wait, stop me, I’ve done this before. That’s how my book review began.
I will say this: to read Wild is to read the unapologetically rendered inner tumult of the human spirit. The sentences mirror the caprices of thought and emotion. At one time short and powerful. At another time long and winding. Always complicated. Just watch this sentence: “Every now and then I could see myself–truly see myself–and a sentence would come to me, thundering like a god into my head, and as I saw myself then in front of that tarnished mirror what came was the woman with the hole in her heart” (Strayed’s emphasis 38). It doubles back on itself, seeing itself twice, the first time just now and then, the second time truly, but then the sentence “thunders like a god” and we return to that sometimes woman plagued with doubt and a leaking heart. She continues: “That was why I’d longed for a companion the night before. That was why I was here, naked in a motel, with this preposterous idea of hiking alone for three months on the PCT” (38). There’s a sudden simplicity to these two sentences, a realization occurring from the confusion of before, a certainty that’s sure to provoke only more chaos in the mind.
She captures the mind of her 17-years-younger self well, so we must assume, with passionate diction and daring syntax. While I read the memoir I wrestled in my mind with how to describe what she’s doing in Wild at the sentence level. Then I read a paragraph in a book review by Dwight Garner from the New York Times that says it pretty well:
“The lack of ease in her life made her fierce and funny; she hammers home her hard-won sentences like a box of nails. The cumulative welling up I experienced during “Wild” was partly a response to that too infrequent sight: that of a writer finding her voice, and sustaining it, right in front of your eyes.”
That’s it. “Hard-won” sentences hammered like a box of nails. That’s what it is. That’s what I could dare to do.