You know how there are some books you just wander by at the bookstore for years and then one day you just throw your hands in the air and say, "oh fuck it all, I'll buy it already!"?
If not, you're no friend of mine.
This is one of those books for me. And it was.... odd.
Into the Wild - Jon Krakauer
In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a party of moose hunters. How McCandless came to die is the unforgettable story of Into the Wild.
Immediately after graduating from college in 1991, McCandless had roamed through the West and Southwest on a vision quest like those made by his heroes Jack London and John Muir. In the Mojave Desert he abandoned his car, stripped it of its license plates, and burned all of his cash. He would give himself a new name, Alexander Supertramp, and , unencumbered by money and belongings, he would be free to wallow in the raw, unfiltered experiences that nature presented. Craving a blank spot on the map, McCandless simply threw the maps away. Leaving behind his desperate parents and sister, he vanished into the wild.
To be completely honest, I wanted to read this book because the idea of someone of sound mental health just trudging out into the wilderness and then dying is pretty damn intriguing. As I read the story, I felt really bad for this kid because this just proves you can be incredibly intelligent and incredibly stupid at the exact same time. It's the story of Christopher McCandless, who for whatever reason, just goes off on a life changing trip. He leaves behind a family who really has no clue why he went off.
Sure, we find out later his dad made some pretty poor choices with his relations, but honestly? I'd bet you several parents do the same thing and families suffer, but they get over it somehow. Instead of doing that, Christopher internalizes it and basically snaps. Not really snaps, but it seems like the catalyst for the entire trip that proves fatal. But what is hands down, the saddest part of this book is how he dies inside of the sleeping bag his mother made him. Maybe because I have a son and I understand what a mother and son bond feels like, but my heart hurt for his poor mother. It hurts for him too because I think at his age, in his last few breaths, he probably wished for his mom to be there and that is heartbreaking. It's one thing to die alone as an older person, but it's quite another to die alone so young and your family has no idea where you are.
Honestly? A lot of the things Christopher does and his age makes you wonder if he was in the beginnings of schizophrenia or some other mental illness. Between his alter ego, abandoning beloved possessions and the bizarre note on his car, to his general personality and mannerisms and let's not forget this often bizarre "journal entries". The whole thing felt very much like a mental illness situation to me.
I will say that one thing that annoys me in this book is the author talking about his adventures in the wild and experiences as a young man. If I wanted to read about that, I would have bought a book about it. Instead, I bought a book on Christopher McCandless and I'd say almost half of the book is about the author and other random "explorers" who disappeared and seemingly died in the hands of the wild outdoors. It's like a comparison was being made to somehow say, sometimes people just want to be one with nature and it's no big deal. It just felt strange to me.
There was one quote in here that really struck me and it's a passage from Edward Hoadlund's, "Up the Black to Chalkyitsik". It is obviously something relevant to this book but it also made by think of the book "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed.
We have in America "the Big Two-Hearted River" tradition: taking your wounds to the wilderness for a cure, a conversion, a rest, or whatever. And as in the Hemingway story, if your wounds aren't too bad, it works. But this isn't Michigan (or Faulkner's Big Woods in Mississippi, for that matter). This is Alaska.
To me it's like, sure- a walk out into nature can sometimes clear your mind and give you some perspective. But other times, you need to just deal with it. Life is hard. Life is hard for everyone, it doesn't matter the path we're given. I think some people aren't able to deal with life so they get drunk on bad days, they experiment with drugs because it makes them forget or calm down or, some people think they can live off the land and chuck deuces at civilization.
Overall? Interesting book. It's not something I'd say you should read because you'll gain insight into something. I still don't feel like we really know what Christopher was thinking and he didn't leave enough behind to explain any of it. And it's really sad. The passages at the end from when his parents visits the bus he died in? So sad. I can't even imagine what his mother felt at that moment. You raise your children knowing it's your job to keep them safe and despite that, they have no regard for you or the worry you would feel when you have no idea where they are. That's hard. As a parent, that was hard for me to read.