It's hard to give this book a bad review, because I really can't blame it on the author as much as the editors at Random House for releasing it this way. The book is a story of the author's 1995 trek along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) following a divorce, the cancer death of her mother and a self-destructive meltdown in the modern world. It follows a very unprepared, ill-suited and (ultimately) very lucky, 26 year-old author as she decides to hike the PCT from the Mojave Desert to the Bridge of the Gods on the Oregon/Washington border. The book sells itself as a "wilderness adventure" book, even from the cover, but it belongs better in women's contemporary non-fiction.
The book got the Oprah Book club seal of approval during the time I was listening to it, and you can see why. It is an unabashed woman's perspective on a bucket list challenge. In the end, you can't help but feel torn between what is essentially a wonderful coming of womanhood odyssey and a book chockablock with short stories that have as much focus and direction as a shotgun blast.
Sadly, at a point only four hours from the end of the book, I was so utterly exasperated with what was devolving into a Harlequin romance novel that I almost stopped listening altogether. I stuck it out only to conclude that reaching the end of this book was every bit the analogy to walking the PCT itself.
First, the good parts: Strayed manages the impossible of hiking a majority of a really tough wilderness trail with little experience. She comes to terms with her distractingly untamed libido, former drug use and family issues along the way. Her raw honesty regarding her personal issues was gripping. The listener is truly thrust into her dysfunctional universe headlong.
The bad parts: The book's flow is continually disrupted by the author's insanely voracious libido. At one point nine hours into the audio book as she crosses into Ashland, Oregon, you can just skip an hour of listening and not miss anything. It's soft core porn, not a hiking novel. In fact, you'll probably appreciate the book better that way.
One would think this would be about how an ill-prepared young lady overcame the adversity facing her and rose to the challenge, ultimately steeling herself. But it's the opposite. In almost every possible situation where she can attempt to use her charm or fall back on the fact that she was an overwhelmed young woman in need of the kindness of strangers, she plays the Blanche Du Bois card. I'll give credit where credit is due, but she whines an awful lot.
Substantively, Strayed begins the trail in the Mojave Desert, not in Mexico where it actually begins. She then hitchhikes, in cars and on busses, considerable stretches off the trail. Ultimately, Strayed ends her trek on the Washington/Oregon border - far short of the PCT's Canadian terminus. Functionally, she hiked only around ONE HALF of the trail. You can't help but feel a little cheated by the descriptions of the novel.
Formwise, there are some powerful and very evocative scenes, such as when her horse Lady was put down or when she was robbed for $20 while stoned out of her mind. For the life of me, I could not amalgamate several scenes like these with the rest of the book. They didn't really offer any insight into her character development. There were moments of brilliant writing with no overarching direction to them.
The telling got a little labored at times, as well. The narrator had this way of reading where she deepened her voice, making every male character sound the same. At times, it felt like listening to the puppets from Mr. Roger's Neighborhood as a kid.
I really wanted to give this book five stars when I started it and for most of the book it held out. If you are going to invest 13 hours of your life on this, be prepared for what you are going to get. In the end, I felt this pulled out a 2.5 star rating overall.
I thought this would be one of my favorite books and I really wanted to like it - it had everything - outdoors, hiking, female lead character, etc. So why couldn't I finish it? First of all, there were a couple of instances where I thought my iPhone fast forwarded on its own - she was hiking the trail and all of a sudden it was several days later - I had no idea what happened in between when she started and felt like I had missed something. Then there was what I felt was a flippant reference to an abortion, however, I figured her decisions and struggles might be reconciled on the trail and the story would get back to that later (near the end). I was still "struggling" through until a scene involving a horse - I turned it off and never went back. Disappointing.
Part boring, part completely unbelievable with a very few little sparks of her actually coming to grips with her life.
Some of the things that drove me insane about this book:
-- The boots that didn’t fit but didn’t slow her down at all then there were her toenails and the ripping of them off and that didn’t slow her down either. Then hiking the mountains in sandals covered in duct tape, come on, really?
--All the men she thought wanted to have sex with her, honey you have been hiking through the mountains you are dirty, sweaty and just plain nasty, this is all in your head!
-- She also seemed to have the quickest and easiest heroin withdrawal of anyone I’ve ever heard of, she just decided one day to quit and never had a single withdrawal symptom or DT’s or anything
--Do I really care that you are too tired to even masturbate? No, really, No, I never needed to know that and why you chose to keep that in the book makes no sense to me.
Some of the things I liked about this book:
Umm well there was…..
Yeah there was the part…
Um no not that either
Oh what about….
No not that.
Well you get the drift.
This book had so much potential and, indeed, portions of it were very good. It is an autobiography of the author, Cheryl Strayed. At age 45, she decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) as an escape and a way to find herself after her mother dies, and she divorces her husband. She has various affairs and gets hooked on drugs (heroin). Her life is a mess and the hike is a way to start anew. I am a hiker, and I really enjoyed the narrative when she is hiking. The story goes back to her mother, her married life (which wasn???t bad), and her affairs throughout the story. I wasn???t a fan of the regular use of the language throughout the book and her graphic verbiage used to describe the ???sex??? she had with others. She F*@% him, and F*@% him, and F*@% him. You get the drift. I get she had affairs, but why the strong language? Why do you have to tell us you haven???t even masturbated once during your hike? Who cares! You can get the same point across without all the hyperbole. I just about bailed on the book a few times.
As I kept reading, I was captivated by how the journey was making her stronger and really molding her as a new person. She was a novice hiker and packed her pack too heavy and could barely hike a few miles in a day in the beginning, and eventually going 20 miles in a day. She lost half of her toenails and strengthened her body. There was enough story there to balance out the other crap. I was waiting for the finish, thinking it really made a difference of who she had become. It ended with a fizzle. No really strong revelations. No big ah-ha moment. No lesson learned. Very disappointed with the ending. Overall, it was just okay.
Probably not Cheryl Strayed, but Bernadette Dunne did as good a job as a narrator could with the material.
Mostly, I was happy when it ended. The author did not inspire empathy. Although the descriptions of the trail and her journey were at times interesting, her utter unpreparedness for the trail came across as ridiculous. She struck me as a somewhat shallow person, and not particularly bright. Her expression of grief at the loss of her mother was touching, but if that grief supposedly inspired the journey and triggered some of her uninhibited behavior prior, it was unconvincing.
The narrator was very good. Overall, for me this one will be forgotten entirely.
20140513 ◊ As an avid backpacker, I read this book with keen interest in the story of a woman completing a solo hike of the PCT. As a meticulous trip planner and methodical researcher, I cringed through the author's descriptions of her own lack of preparation and systemic dingbattedness. The best thing I can say about this book is that Cheryl Strayed is a decent writer. The only thing I can admire about her story is the sheer tenacity she displayed by staying on the trail, even though she skipped huge chunks of the actual PCT. Narration of the audiobook by Bernadette Peters completely missed the mark; her raspy voice didn't match the story's perky protagonist.
This book left a bad taste in my mouth. The author's story is not inspirational in the slightest; I don't understand why it's getting so much attention. A shallow, spoiled brat of a woman, Strayed was only able to complete as much of the PCT as she did by relying upon the kindness of others. I was so tired of reading about how everyone fawned over her that by the time she got kicked out of the RV park for not being able to pay the camping fee, I cheered out loud. This is not the story of a strong, capable woman; it's the story of a hapless nincompoop whose only redeeming quality was a desperation-tinged determination to "complete" the PCT. Best as a cautionary tale on how not to plan a long backpacking trip, solo or otherwise.
If the person had realized that she is not a tortured soul but a person who is having terrible things happen to her because she is making terrible choices that hurt other people and cause her to be isolated. There is no reason to care for the author.
I would like to have heard about her walk on the trail in less than 1.5 hours of the book.
Narrator was great. No complaints.
I wouldn't try another from the author, but definitely would from Ms Dunne.
The idea of hearing about her adventures on the Pacific Crest Trail was exciting, but the book was really about her relationship with her family, personal exploration and coming to terms with grief.
Ms Dunne is a solid performer to whom I would listen again. I've enjoyed her reading in the past, and look forward to it in the future.
This book needs an editor. I'm not sure who the audience should be, but as an outdoors person it wasn't directed to me. Ms Strayed's experiments with heroin use lent color to the story, and contributed to a general understanding of her as a character. With that said, I bought the book for the story of her encounters with nature, and that was covered in this book with no need for follow-up.
I reviewed this book after listening to several interviews with the author. I was considering it as a book we might offer to customers in our park visitor centers. I was interested enough to have my attention held by the book, but found it unsuitable as an offering in a nature-related book store. The author's language is colorful (I consider four-letter words colorful when used in context), but her sexual exploits and drug experiments take the course of the book from a wilderness, nature experience to one describing personal awareness as the central theme.
All of it! I was looking forward to reading this book about hiking a beautiful part of the country with a female lead. I only got a hour and a half in and can't listen anymore. The main character is self-centered and completely unlikable. I really wish I had read some of the bad reviews before I purchased because it sounds like she only gets worse throughout the book! At this point in the book she hasn't started hiking the trail yet because so much time has been spent discussing her mothers death from cancer. I sympathize with that but she uses that loss to justify mountains of bad behavior that hurts others as well as herself. After reading others reviews I don't think I want to continue this hike.
She wasn't a bad narrator I just didn't feel her more mature sounding voice fit the obviously extremely immature character.
While the PCT part is really interesting, it got really aggravating to have to hear the same old stuff about her mom. Losing a parent is awful, but cheryl's problems go a lot deeper than that. This is a book about a struggling woman-- hardly about the history of the PCT.