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Powerful Writing Saves Unlikeable Cheryl Strayed in 'Wild'

You won't be able to put down the bestselling memoir, but you'll also want to shake the author. Here's a book review on Cheryl Strayed's "Wild."

Dear Cheryl,

You tell us that you smell terrible and look hideous during your epic hike on the Pacific Crest Trail back in the 1990s, and yet you make it clear that every man you encounter can't wait to sleep with you. That giant roll of condoms you brought along pretty much confirms what you assumed would happen. 

You profess to love your husband desperately, yet claim that you were driven to tear apart your own marriage through infidelity and a random dalliance with heroin that you never fully explain.

Yes, you were dealing with unprocessed grief from your mother's death and a difficult upbringing. But you use that age-old excuse for bad behavior — you were young and had to make all these mistakes to come out the other side as the person you were meant to be.

Guess what, Cheryl? That's kind of a bad message to send to the legions of messed-up people out there, because most of them don't come through the fire to write a best-selling, confessional memoir. Most of them stay messed up, and their reckless behavior doesn't lead them to prosperity and wholeness, it just gives their families a lifetime of heartache.

Despite all that, I couldn't help but be drawn into your memoir through its tremendously engaging prose. I didn't much like your 26-year-old self as you alternated between bravado and stupidity, but I did like your ability to express what it was like to be alone in the wilderness, suddenly aware of each footstep and how it would carry you toward your goal.

"I was thinking only of moving myself forward. My mind was a crystal vase that contained only that one desire. My body was its opposite: a bag of broken glass. Everytime I moved, it hurt. I counted my steps to take my mind off the pain, silently ticking the numbers off in my head to one hundred before starting over again."

You're a tremendous writer, Cheryl. You pull your reader through the adventure with you. I practically had blisters on my feet by the time I got through the first chapter.

I just wish the subtext had been a little more self-deprecating and a little less "Queen of the PCT."

Sincerely,

Susan

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