Wild – huh?

 

I just finished reading Wild – the book by Cheryl Strayed about her hiking the Pacific Coast Trail in an effort to find herself after her mother’s death. Trust me, I love a good “finding yourself” story, but this one wasn’t one. I love to hear how some events or an experience changed someone’s life. What lessons they learned and how they adjusted their moral compass as a result.

 

And while Wild was well written and certainly entertaining (although there were definitely parts I could have lived with out – the insertion of a menstrual cup comes to mind) it left me at the end saying “Huh? What just happened?” It wasn’t the book that was flawed as much as it was the ending.

 

In literally the last few (3 total) paragraphs of the book she ends her hike and fast forwards to a husband and children and 9 (nine!) years later. All of which left me a little confused.

 

Where’s the payoff? Where’s the application of what she learned to her life going forward? 

 

It feels like an editor somewhere said, “Okay, you’re done, you have enough word count. Bring it home, baby.”

 

Those who read this blog know that I’m a memoir junkie. It’s my most favorite genre. I love to hear how others have overcome, how they have persevered, and become stronger. I love to see how people cope with unbearable situations.

 

But the key is that you have to include that aspect of lessons learned in your story. If you write about a terrific experience (and let’s kid no one, the adventure that Strayed went on is worthy of a book) then you are obligated to your readers to not only bring it home but to weave those lessons into the story of your life so that we can benefit from your experiences and maybe learn how to cope ourselves if we come across a similar situation. Maybe if we read your book something will resonate in us and we won’t have to go on a multi-week trek to handle the death of our mother, or child, or whomever.

 

With memoirs, it’s not the journey that matters so much as it is the ability to learn from your mistakes and experiences in order to adjust and verbalize your life going forward. If you leave your readers hanging, or even worse, guessing about those lessons then you have not only lost your credibility as a writer, you have also lost your credibility as a memoirist.

 

***

 

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

 

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com)

And yeah, when I write my memoir, you can remind me of this post if I blow it. 

 

20 thoughts on “Wild – huh?

  1. I read it based on an article in one of my nature magazines. I loved it despite the ending being less than climactic. I found the journey to be the point. If that makes a bad memoir then perhaps it should be reclassified? Being an avid hiker, I know you can’t take a hike like that and not come out changed.

    • Kelly,

      I think the writing about the trail saved the book and that’s what got me to the end. Cheryl has a voice, she is funny, and has a story to tell. She puts in great detail and I learned about the trail.

      But as in any good story, at some point the hero needs to turn from being a victim into a hero (this happens even in memoir.) I never saw that happen here, in fact up until the last few pages I saw a lot (an awful lot) of whining – to the point of being distracting and annoying.

      I’m all for her adventure, I’m all for women finding strength by challenging themselves but what this book needed was a good structure edit and a few (quite a few) extra pages in order to end the story effectively.

      Wendy

      • I can’t argue with you there Wendy. I’m far from knowing what makes a book proper. I only know I enjoyed it and felt compelled to write. I’m enjoying the learning process through reading more.

  2. Have you read Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods,” about hiking the Appalachian Trail? It’s funny and witty, but doesn’t purport to be more than that. No lessons to be learned, no memoir, just what happened on the hike. Perhaps “Wild” would have been better presented in that vein.

    • I have read Bryson’s book – A Walk in the Woods – and you are right, that’s a perfect example of a travel adventure that does not pretend to be anything else but that.

      I think that – Wild- tried to be two things at once and in so doing missed the mark.

      Wendy

  3. Oh, wow. I LOVED this book and found the ending completely appropriate. The book, to me, was about that one singular experience (with background for context) – not about what she did afterwards. I’m always interested to hear other takes on such things, though. I just didn’t have that experience with the book at all.

  4. I read this book and loved it!
    I agree the ending was a bit abrupt.

    I remember it as an interesting, inspiring, and funny story and didn’t think of it as a memoir.

    I’m curious, do memoirs have to have lessons learned or payoffs? can’t they just be a story?

    It seems like there are lots of books I’ve come across recently that define catagorization. Yesterday, I went to the library to pick up a book, that I knew they had in, because I had checked online first.
    When I went to search it out, I looked 4 places before I found the one I wanted.
    Her books of that same series could be found in 4 areas of the library:
    general fiction, fantasy, pb rack in the reading room, and sci-fi.
    And with a stretch, it could have been romance too.

    • Star,

      That’s one of the problems with books these days. The publishers want you to define the category so they know where to place the book on the bookstore shelves. Sometimes it can be very limiting (not to mention confusing)

      With regard to your question about memoirs – No, they don’t always have to have a lesson learned. For example, if the subject is someone famous, take a Clinton for example, then we don’t need to see them learn a lesson, we just want to have a glimpse into their life.

      If you are not famous, and especially if the cover of the book indicates that you have changed as a result of your journey then you are obligated to teach those lessons to your readers. You don’t have to (obviously) but including how the event changed your life is what makes a memoir well, memorable.

      Wendy

  5. Haven’t read the book, but agree entirely. It doesn’t matter what genre it is – if you don’t have a good ending, if the writer has not mastered denoument – what’s the point? This applies to ALL kinds of endings too – happy, unhappy or melancholic.
    Wrap it up; otherwise, the Reader feels cheated. And make it GOOD. Writers tend to concentrate so hard on their beginnings, want to make an impression from Page 1, but the first five pages and the last five pages are integrally connected. These two things balance everything in between.

  6. I admire your ability to post a negative review of a book. I struggle with this daily and for now am subscribing to the “if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all” point of view on my blogs.

    I agree with you about a strong ending. Nothing pisses me off worse than weak writing, particularly is the author started out strong and they roped you in, just to betray you in the end.

    • As one who aspires to having a book that will one day be reviewed by others, I try to be careful in my reviews.

      I want to make it clear that I think there is a story here. A legitimate and compelling story. I think that Strayed is a competent writer, in fact I loved the first half of the book and was recommending it to others.

      Where it fell apart (for me – and I own this opinion) was the last third to fourth of the book. it felt to me like she got a little lost (which is ironic because it’s a book about finding yourself.)

      What she should have had was a strong structure edit with close attention to the entire structure of the story – not just the beginning.

      I realize that many (millions) will disagree with me and I still think the book is a worthy read, I’m just saying that I was incredibly disappointed when I finished the book. With more attention to the structure and where it was heading, this could have been a fabulous book instead of just a good book.

      Wendy

  7. Great post! We have a new brewery in town, Pedernales Brewing Co. Lee, the fearless leader there, told his brewmaster he wanted beer that “tastes like another.”. Huh? “Tastes like another beer.”. The brewmaster executed that to perfection, redefining my ideas about what great beer is. Lee was the first reader of my story, Enchanted Rock Red; his comment was “Lime a bag of potato chips: goes fast, and when it’s done you want more.”. Many movies and books fall apart there. The last paragraph deserves as much attention as the first.

  8. I agree with you about Wild. It is truly disturbing when a writer skips writing about what should be the spiritual climax of the life experience- the afterglow reflection, so to speak. Personally, I will avoid any further books by the author- after all, what she did is “not fair” to the audience.

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