It is true that I miss intelligent companionship, but there are so few with whom I can share the things that mean so much to me that I have learned to contain myself. It is enough that I am surrounded with beauty...
In 1990, Chris McCandless graduated from Emory University and, instead of pursuing a career, he burned all his money, changed his name and vanished to experience life in the wild. During this time, he hiked a lot, met a lot of people who made an impact in his life and also who were influenced by him, became close friends with a person who treated him as if he were his own son, went to Alaska with the full intention of living a sustainable life, without company or external influences, and eventually died when he made a fatal mistake.
I picked the audio version of Into The Wild to listen to in my car, after having a memorable time with the author's Into Thin Air. Into The Wild was a little less intriguing but it was still fascinating and, for the most part, I found it a revelation. That said, I had a contrasting reaction as well - that of anger - aimed at the protagonist, for multiple reasons.
Chris was an idealist. I like idealists. I think we need a few more of those (but not too many) in this world where people can be terribly pessimistic. He was also a thinker. Krakauer quoted many of his phrases from letters, diary entries and conversations with people that they alternately fogged my eyes over and made me go "Oh! That's brilliant!". Chris was also a stubborn arrogant fool. Forgive my being so crude on a dead person, but really Chris - couldn't you for once, call your family? Did you ever pause to think the effect that your actions could have on them? Did you really believe that if anything happened to you, they will be able to shrug it away easily? Each time, he went on and on about how his father is an <expletive> and how angry he is that his parents think they can pay him to do what they want, it made me very angry. Maybe if he hadn't died, I would not have been so upset with him. But knowing about how he hadn't contacted his parents in two years and how he refused everyone's advice that the Alaskan bush is probably not a great place for inexperienced campers, I just couldn't forgive him. Although the author considerably sided with McCandless (but not entirely), due in part to really understanding him (because of similar experiences), I was mostly on the side of the many people who poured in their angry opinions against McCandless.
I totally understand the idealist fervor that grips almost every young person. I went through a phase myself when I thought I could do anything and that I was invincible. At some point, it dawned on me that I was nowhere close. That's probably what coming-of-age means. Chris, being an insufferable young adult who believed that nothing could touch him, even in freezing uninhabited wild parts of the world, had lots of ideas and opinions. I didn't agree with him on some, but he was passionate and he had sound arguments for his stance. Even when he died, it was not really ignorance that did him in, but a mistake that anyone could have made because research indicated that what killed him was really not deadly. Despite all this, my thoughts stayed with his family. I cannot imagine how they could ever get closure for the death of a son who never loved them well and yearned to get away from them.
Into The Wild made me very angry but I'm thankful for it. As in Into Thin Air, Krakauer's research is impressive. He dug out every single aspect of this man's life - and analyzed it as well as he could. He didn't hesitate to present harsh opinions from people who responded to the article Krakauer first wrote about McCandless' death. When I started listening to this book, I didn't expect to understand the protagonist well. But Krakauer talked about a lot other people who had similar aspirations - to live minimally out in the woods - many failed, some succeeded. Almost every one of them ended up depressed or lonely. I know I could never take up anyone's dare to live like McCandless did and I do have immense respect for him and others who tried to live that life. Like Krakauer quoted one of McCandless' friends, he was just born in the wrong century. His desire to live like the people from many centuries ago - on the land and without a map - was hard to emulate in today's world, not just because of how attuned we are today to the more accessible way of life but also because it is hard to escape from all the information around us. There's also the issue of what we can confidently eat in the wild - which is what eventually killed McCandless.
On the whole, I found Into The Wild highly interesting. Although some of the philosophical meanderings bored me, they did leave me thoughtful and conversing to myself in the car. I cannot say that the narrator of this audiobook, Philip Franklin, did a great job though. He wasn't terrible, or else I would not have finished the book at all, but it took a while to get used to him. Krakauer has cemented himself in my mind as an author I must follow, not just for the great adventurous stories he shares but also because of how well he researches his subjects.
I borrowed this audiobook from the good old library.