Cheryl Strayed’s autobiographical novel, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is quickly becoming a global sensation. The text, turned screenplay, is nominated for two Oscars at this Sunday’s fast approaching Academy Awards Ceremony. The movie’s acclaim not only stems from the actors’ performances but from Strayed’s poignant words.
The novel follows twenty-six year old Cheryl Strayed as she hikes the Pacific Crest Trail from Mojave, California to Locks, Washington. Strayed undertakes this 1,100 mile hike alone, spurred by the demons of her past as well as those of the present. Strayed, using shear blind determination to complete her trek, is accompanied by the uncertainty of her future. As the above lines work to summarize the text, one could be tempted by this description to classify Wild as nothing more than a new cog in the “coming of age novel” wheel, simply a book of self-discovery or a travel journal. Any one of these classifications would be a flagrant mistake for this particular New York Times Best Seller.
After the sudden death of her mother, Strayed’s life begins a catastrophic tailspin. The once distinguished college student finds herself grieving her mother’s death, separated from her family, addicted to heroin, entangled in affairs and ultimately divorced from her husband, all before her twenty-sixth birthday. At this time, Strayed viewed the Pacific Crest Trail as a way to set her life back on its own promising course. Not to spoil the outcome for prospective readers, however, the long, winding and tumultuous trail ironically, returns Strayed to the straight and narrow. The beauty of Strayed’s text is found not in her redemption but in her honesty.
Each page of Wild is just that, wild. Strayed’s commentary on her life is fierce, at times harsh or rough around the edges, enthusiastic, or any other synonyms one might conjure for the novel’s title. When the autobiography needs to be, it is heart-wrenching, haunting and self-reflective. Then, on a dime, the text completes a 180 degree turn. It becomes sarcastic, self-deprecating and witty. A reader needs to look no further than Strayed’s own name to find her own brand of sarcastic humor. While lamenting her ending marriage, Strayed informs the audience she changed her named to Strayed as a reminder of how far in life she had in fact “strayed.” These abrupt changes in the text make Cheryl Strayed what we all strive to be and that is honest with ourselves.
My personal fear, regarding this autobiography is that this honesty comes at a cost. Not everyone will appreciate the text’s frankness. Strayed discusses everything from her abortion to her drug use and everything in between. In doing so, Strayed apologizes to those she has hurt, discourages others from following in her path but never regrets, as her indiscretions formed her into the person she has become. I fear some readers will not see past the occasional profanity and the controversial subject matter thus preventing them from appreciating the true meaning of Strayed’s words. Her candor assists the reader to see the forest through the trees (pun intended).
A revelation occurs as one reads this book. It is: we all make mistakes, we should move on in a positive manner and we should embrace our errors. Staryed teaches the reader, not to spend precious time regretting our mistakes because without them, our life would not be enhanced but drastically lacking in personal meaning. At times, society bans literature for various reasons. With trepidation I believe that Wild will one day succumb to societal pressures of not conforming to political correctness. It would be a discredit for a reader not to acknowledge Strayed’s miraculous feat and I am not referencing her solo trek, her transformative life, but her teachable life lessons.