Book Review: Wild (narcissism)

As I was heading out to Colorado to pick up the family, I stopped through the airport bookstore. Thankfully I purchased a much better book-Emerald Mile-and borrowed a digital copy from the CMLibrary for Wild: Lost and Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed.

Perhaps the large sticker that announced it was becoming a future motion picture…or more glaring, the Oprah Book Club stick…should have forewarned me to the narcissistic attitude that permeated the book.

There was great hope for this book to follow the classic bildungsroman motif (Google it, its all I remember from 9th grade English class). She set the book up well with tragic stories of her mother’s death from cancer, her grief-induced divorce, multiple affairs and causal sexual encounters, her heroin addiction, estranged relationships and wandering lifestyle. Yet the tagline of the book suggested that her journey along the PCT would result in a personal transformation, and subtly of a spiritual nature.

…SPOILERS here on out…

However, as the trek continued, the self-absorption continued all the way through the acknowledgments. There lacked any real character development beyond how they effected Cheryl, such as the creepy man who seemed to stalk her and the ranger hitting on her. Names like Doug, Tom, Albert, M something, Ed, the kid she had sex with in Ashland, moved in and out of the story in a flash. There was never a pause to explore who these people where or why they were there for their sake. The most noticeable narcissistic moment was her mentioning three times the disappointment that a stoned-out hippy could not remember meeting her earlier in the week; as if being forgotten was a huge slight in her life.

In the end, the only tangible “transformation” seemed to occur when she spooned with a young man in the bed of a pickup truck while two of his friends laid next to them; she exuded her new found strength because she did not have sex with him, even while 5 people where in the truck with them.

Even the final paragraph discusses the death of another hiker from the perspective of how it made her cry and retreat into her basement; with no mention of how his fellow hiker or friends were impacted by his death. A quick google search revealed that this man may have had a far more intriguing story (award winning winemaker, adventurer) than all we learned about Doug as a “handsome young man” who had given Cheryl a feather.

Usually I wouldn’t bother with a review, but due the books popularity–NY Times Best Seller, Oprah Rec and Reese Witherspoon movie–I find the accolades point to a deeper conversation about our cultural attitude. Of course a memoir is going to be a self-absorbed reflection, especially when the author is a self-help columnist, but to applaud this woman’s inability to look at anyone else but herself further reveals our #selfie culture.

With its subtitle, in the end the reader is left approving of a “found” woman whose relationships remain transactional, where people’s only value is how they impact her life.

In my reflection on this book, it left me grateful for the transformative power of faith that can move our attention from ourselves and onto the others. While on Young Life staff, I was trained over and over again to not talk about myself but to ask students about them. This is the secret of being “found,” when we care more about others than ourselves. Where we become more interested in the story of someone else then seeking to constantly retell our life story in a desperate attempt of affirmation.

As I read Cheryl Strayed’s life story and mulled over her chosen subtitle that suggested a powerful spiritual transformation of being lost to becoming found, I heard God’s reminder that the only way we can truly be found is through “the Son of Man [who] came to seek and save those who are lost” (Luke 19:10). Otherwise we are left a wandering and wondering mess on an endless journey desperately trying to find ourselves.

PS–to further make my point, in reading other reviews, I read you could buy the official Oprah version where you get to see where Oprah underlined portions of the book. #Speechless

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