I have long resisted reading the bestselling Wild by Cheryl Strayed, in loyalty to a book of the same name that was so impactful and astonishing that any other taking its name felt like a laughable chancer. Wild by Jay Griffiths was one of the first books I read after starting this blog in 2011, and though I gave it but a brief review, it was a genuinely revelatory and inspiring – I mean that in its most literal sense – book about the relationship between human and environment. Griffiths travels to very diverse places across the world, getting to know the places like their indigenous people and deeply connecting to the spirit of these different placecs.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed, as I suspected, is a much less impressive affair, even if it has all the ingredients that has made it a mainstream success. Strayed has a huge skill in making herself as narrator seem completely relatable, like a friend of yours – although as you go on you gradually gather that she is nothing like you – a heroin-using, compulsively unfaithful screw-up 20-something divorcee with close to a sex addiction and some far-out beliefs. All of these facts create some racy colour which is interspersed effectively with the main story: Strayed hiking thousands of miles of the Pacific Coastal Trail solo in an attempt to find peace with herself.
Although Strayed finds peace and a sort of restitution through her voyage, there is no great philosophy at play. She does not find a lesson that applies to the reader – like Jay Griffiths, for example. The peace she finds is in her own ability and resilience; as this is not transferrable to the reader this makes it of limited satisfaction and gives a certain navel-gazing quality.
If you’re going to read a book called Wild, I think you’re entitled to some raw, elemental power, and for all of its emotional exploration and undoubted readability, Strayed’s writing doesn’t pluck these deeper chords. My advice? Stick your neck out and take the crazy ride of Jay Griffith’s Wild. It may not have a Reese Witherspoon-fronted movie to boast of, but it holds the trophy for true Wildness of every kind.