This book impacted me – a lot.
I had seen the movie adaptation a few years ago and knew the story of Chris McCandless, a boy from a well-off, upper-class family who cut ties with his parents, gave all his money away and ventured into the Alaskan wild to live off the land. It’s a true story, by the way.
But even still, I was absolutely immersed and enchanted by this book. Krakauer (who originally wrote a magazine article about Chris McCandless after his body was found in 1992 – which turned into this book) is an excellent writer, who takes us on a journey with his writing. I quickly became aware that I wasn’t just engrossed by the story itself, but by the beautiful flow of words. An example –
McCandless quickly became enamoured of Carthage. He liked the community’s stasis, its plebian virtues and unassuming mien. The place was a back eddy, a pool of jetsam beyond the pull of the main current, and that suited him just fine.
I don’t even know what most of those words mean! But the way he uses them evokes nostalgia, whimsy and drabness – so I can still understand the vibes of the town. Such elegant writing.
Into the Wild stirred things in me pretty deeply. It didn’t help that I would delve into it on the train to work. What was I meant to do with things like this –
At long last he was unencumbered, emancipated from the stifling world of his parents and peers, a world of abstraction and security and material excess, a world in which he felt grievously cut off from the raw throb of existence.
“… the raw throb of existence”. Ah! Beautiful.
And then, I had to go work my boring day job.
There’s something a bit romantic about leaving it all behind. Giving up material possessions and comfort to be amongst nature and truly appreciate it. I know my heart longs for mountains, oceans and trees – not concrete and air-conditioned office buildings. Ugh.
Krakauer explores the Chris McCandless story with journalistic expertise – coming at it from all angles. He doesn’t dodge that many people saw his actions as reckless and dumb (I mean they do have a point – he died out in the wild after a few months). However he is also sensitive, compares McCandless to other people who did the same thing. And he strives to make sense of it, to understand the allure of the wild.
What doesn’t escape me is that Chris McCandless is happy. The people he meets report this and his notes and diary entries point towards the same conclusion. He was lonely, scared and hungry most of the time, but he found his place away from society and its restraints. Maybe it was a selfish move (well, yes it definitely was) – but also, maybe he was closer than any of us will ever come to being truly free.