Jessica’s Cranky Corner: Into the Wild

541919_3911362915034_469792480_n121Have you ever read a book that frustrated you to the core, but yet morbid fascination kept you glued to the pages? “Into the Wild” is one of those books. It’s been a few days since I finished it, but my mind keeps drifting off to that haunting last chapter when Christopher McCandless starved to death in an abandoned bus deep in the wilds of Alaska.

I just can’t wrap my brain around the risks he took, and the self-centered decisions he made. It’s human nature to not like what you can’t understand. So maybe that’s why I had a hard time giving Christopher (aka “Alexander Super-Tramp”) the benefit of the doubt.

I complained to my husband about my frustration with the guy. Apparently, he believes men have an innate desire to explore nature and discover uncharted territory.  He also defended Chris by stating that he was just a kid, and that all 20-somethings do stupid things. I get that…kind of.  Sure, we all do stupid things when our temporal lobes aren’t fully developed, but what Christopher did was so extreme, and so bizarre. It can’t just be chocked up to the ol’ “kids will be kids” theory.1845

The thing is, I can’t get pass Christopher’s one big character flaw. For someone who so vehemently preaches the gospel for human rights and social justice, he really didn’t do a damned thing for anyone except himself. Sure he visited some homeless camps, fed them a few sandwiches and dropped a couple bucks in their tin cups. But really, he wasn’t concerned about helping people out in the long-term. In fact, he actually did more harm than good by hitchhiking in and out of people’s lives so quickly. He had a way of staying in a town long enough to start building relationships with new friends only to vanish into the night, leaving them confused and heartbroken.

I felt so bad for Ronald, an old widower who wanted to be Christopher’s grandfather. Not only did Christopher leave Ron in the lurch, he also had the gall to send him a really offensive letter. In his sanctimonious ramblings, he belittled Ron’s conventional lifestyle, imploring him to sell all his belongings and hit the road. In essence, he told the old man that his life was crap, and that it wasn’t worth living unless he embraced an extreme, nomadic lifestyle. Huh. This is coming from a guy who hated being controlled.

I’m not a big fan of people who abandon the ones they love. That’s why I really didn’t like the book “Wild” (read my review here) and refuse to read “Eat, Pray, Love.”  Christopher’s parents did have their flaws, his dad especially, but they were the Waltons compared to my own pitiful family. He crucified them for every injustice, large or small, including trying to buy him a new car (oh boo hoo).  Since my parents never even considered providing me with a car, college tuition and an enormous trust fund, he’s not getting my sympathies.

Am I missing the point altogether? Do I just not understand Chris’ motives on a deep, existential level? Am I just another cog in the machine of mainstream American society? I’m sure many people reading this would be nodding their heads. I, too, marvel at his footloose and fancy free journey into the wild. Hell, I even agree with a lot of his esoteric ramblings about the meaningless ways people are living their lives. When I’m trapped in a sea of brake lights every morning on my way to work, I fantasize about ditching the daily grind and living off the grid far away from materialism and power-hungry people. But truth be told, I’m happy with my life that Christopher would quickly dismiss as provincial and meaningless. His unrelenting black-and-white standpoint on right and wrong makes him no different than a religious fundamentalist. He believed that he held all the answers and everyone else just didn’t see the light. That arrogance and self-righteousness was his downfall.

Many reviewers chastised the author for “glorifying” Christopher by making him out to be this big hero for chasing his dream and living life to its fullest. I would have to disagree. The book was well researched, and the author did a fine job throwing out some theories, leaving it up to the readers to formulate their own opinions. He even pointed out that Christopher was somewhat of a hypocrite. He worshipped a bunch of authors and philosophers who were drunks and sexual deviants. In his travels he even befriended a man who habitually beat up his girlfriend. But yet he could never grant clemency to his own father for cheating on his wife decades ago. Since Christopher never let anyone in, his motives for running away will remain a mystery. My guess is that his hatred for his parents was so powerful, he wanted to crush them in the cruelest way possible. Take it from someone who knows, abandonment is one of the cruelest, most cowardly forms of punishment.

I know I’m being hard on the guy, but that’s partly because I’m so frustrated that he had to die. He was clearly a brilliant kid who could master a skill in just about any field. He was a natural entrepreneur, a computer software engineer, a writer, a political scientist. He even had plans to become a lawyer, a profession that would have allowed him to correct all of those social injustices that he so passionately decried.  It’s a shame he chose to live the transient life with no intention of connecting with people and making an impact on the world.  I’m all for getting in touch with nature and exploring far and distant lands, but humans are social animals. We need to share our experiences with others, a lesson that Christopher learned the hard way. In my humble opinion, if the world was full of “Alexander Super-Tramps” it wouldn’t be a better place.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

12262741Oh boy…I really wanted to like this book. Based on all the rave reviews from my trusted book bloggers, I assumed this was going to be a real showstopper. After reading Following Atticus, I was ready for another soul-searching wilderness adventure. The themes of both books are essentially the same: Lost souls embrace the healing powers of nature while pursuing their epic quests.  Their accomplishments are indeed impressive, yet I had a hard time admiring – or even liking – the leading lady in Wild.

There’s this theory that we tend to not like things we don’t understand. I guess that’s why I was immediately turned off by Cheryl Strayed. Despite her poetic ramblings, I couldn’t understand the logic behind some of the self-serving decisions she made that ended up hurting the people she loved. I disconnected from Cheryl the moment when she drooled all over a male nurse’s bulging crotch while standing over her mother’s deathbed. Seriously? You want to jump some strange guy’s bones while your mother is taking her last dying breaths? I know the mind does some wacko things in traumatic situations, but this just seems bizarre.

Throughout the book, I waited for her to redeem herself, but she continued to dig herself deeper into the hole by making idiotic, impulsive decisions.  Why would you go on a solo trek down isolated terrain without a weapon or self-defense training? If you’re toting around a ginormous backpack that’s half your body weight, maybe you should do some rethinking. Oh and before you go on an epic journey through various ecosystems, perhaps it’s a good idea to study a map and weather conditions.

I don’t know, guys. I tried to get past my disdain for this babe in the woods, but even her poetic reflections about the simplicity of nature couldn’t save this book. The flashbacks of her life growing up in a mud-and-straw house with her hippy mother were semi interesting. But did she really need to torture her readers with the gory details about the demise of mother’s beloved horse? There were a couple of chapters about death and dying that I had to skip because the play-by-play details were just a little too much to take.

Maybe if I read this before Following Atticus, I wouldn’t be such a tough critic. Their quest was all about stepping outside mundane life and finding something bigger. Cheryl’s odyssey was all about…well Cheryl. Since this is a journey of transformation, I guess that’s okay for some readers. This reader, however, wanted something more.

On a happier note, I will say that I commend her strength and tenacity. It’s nearly impossible kicking a heroin addiction, and she did it cold turkey. That’s pretty dang impressive. Plus I admire her strong, independent spirit. It takes a lot of balls – or shall I say brass ovaries – to hike the entire PCT all alone. I couldn’t even pitch a tent in my own backyard alone without getting the heebie jeebies.

Normally I don’t write such scathing reviews, but I sincerely doubt this is going to affect book sales one bit. With the blockbuster movie coming out, I’m sure more fans will come out in droves. In fact, an author once told me that a healthy mix of one-star and all-star reviews is actually the sign of a book worth reading. Even though I would rather hike the entire PCT in my bare feet than read this book again, I highly recommend it to book clubs. Trust me, Cheryl’s antics will undoubtedly stir up a hearty debate!