Book Review: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

The story of Chris McCandless isn’t exactly new. There were plenty of young men before him and plenty after him that believed, almost arrogantly, in their intelligence and ability so much so that they felt that even against the strength and almighty power of nature at its most wild that they would win out regardless of how ill-prepared they were for their journey. McCandless was a smart, well-educated twenty something from a well-off suburb of Virginia. His family, friends and those that knew him described him as such adding that, Chris often liked to be alone, not in the sense of being a “loner” and all that that term conjures, but in that, Chris didn’t mind being alone and often was, finding ways to entertain himself.

He enjoyed wandering. He took long trips across the US and would often disappear for long stretches of time. After his graduation from Emory University, McCandless did just that. He packed up and left, eventually getting rid of his car, possessions and even burning what little money he had on him. From there, he drifts all over the West before finally trekking into the Alaskan bush country with ill-fitting boots and little to no food on him.

He plans to live off the land and strike out on his own totally negating the fact that he does not have the supplies needed nor has he taken the time to build the skill set that is needed to survive in the wilderness. Ultimately, the end of Chris McCandless is evident and it’s easy to write him off as a know-it-all kid that got in over his head and paid the ultimate price.

And in some parts I do have to agree with that. He had a comfortable life set up for him and he gave it all away to pretty much tell his parents, up their’s. On the other hand, Krakauer also includes stories of other boys who did the same as McCandless including stories of his own rebellion and his stupidity and near-death experience in trying to climb the Stikine Ice Cap. He spoke of how in your early twenties you grasp mortality, but your own seems so far off and something you’re incapable to completely understanding that you almost want to push yourself into the tip of it, the brink in order to look down on it and feel it.

Which, I get. It reminded me of how when I was 23, I went sky-diving and nothing makes you feel mortal and face your own mortality more than throwing yourself out of a plane and plummeting to earth with nothing but some flimsy material to save you. It was exciting, thrilling and it took away any and all control I had over myself and my well-being. It was exhilarating and something I probably will never do again.

Overall, did Chris McCandless over do it on the rebellion? Heck yes! But, his story and John Krakuer’s take on it does make for a good read.

And then there’s always the 2007 Sean Penn  movie adaptation which boasts lots of beautiful scenes and enough Eddie Vedder to keep any Pearl Jam enthusiast satiated:

Score: 5/5

Book Information: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer was reissued on August 21, 2007 through Anchor Books with ISBN 978-0307387172. In November 2014, Chris’s sister released her own memoir of why Chris went into the wild and tells the story of what her family and upbringing were truly like in, The Wild Truth.

Into the Wild & The Wild Truth

I found Into the Wild when I was going through the last breakup I would have before I would meet my future husband. The end of the that relationship was awful, but it also made me view a lot of what my dating life had been like up until that point. I loved toxic relationships, I loved the drama, I loved choosing emotionally unavailable men. It was a dark time in my life when it came to building healthy relationships.

I have no doubt that stems from earlier events in my life and perhaps one day, I’ll finally write about those. Sometimes, when I think back, I can almost pinpoint the moment that the toxicity seeped into me from my limited world around me. I just never really knew what a strong hold it took or how long it would take to get away from the causes and get it out of me.

I identified so strongly with:

“Some people feel like they don’t deserve love. They walk away quietly into empty spaces, trying to close the gaps of the past.”
― Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

It really spoke to me and at times, when I am reflecting back on those parts of my life, I still feel like that was lesson I took away from that time and unconsciously carried with me for many years. I completely understood why a young man from a “good” family would pack a bag and disappear into the wilderness. It had nothing to do with young adulthood rebellion, but in so many ways a need for a rebirth from what he was born into. It just made sense to me and for awhile, I seriously considered putting all of my efforts into becoming an Alaskan Bush teacher.

The Wild Truth, by Carine McCandless

In 2014, Chris’s sister, Carine published The Wild Truth which delves deeply into her family’s dysfunction, the lies and toxicity and really shows exactly why  Chris died in an abandoned bus in the Bush.

I immediately had bought it and read a chunk before I had to stop to focus on my master’s thesis. I finally got to finish it today and quite simply put: wow. I can’t remember the last time that I had tears streaming down my face as I finished a book. If you thought you identified with Chris, you need to read Carine’s side of things. I felt so many things and I just understood so much of what she went through and how as an adult, it largely became her, navigating her own life and making her own rules.

I highly recommend this memoir. In fact, I think I’m going to go home to day and re-watch the film adaptation of Into the Wild for the umpteenth time.