Review of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed

The cover says it all: If you’re lost, get a guide and put one foot in front of the other until you’re found. In a sometimes gut-wrenching expose of the challenges of her short life of 24 years, Strayed opens her heart and her life to show how she found her own resurrection. Admittedly unprepared for the adventure, she discovers too quickly how much, measured with every toenail she loses along the way. Very little of what she describes would motivate me to want to pick up a similar challenge, but I found myself envying her courage to face in such a forthright manner her many early mistakes. It made all of her triumphs, not least of which was finishing the trail, that much more meaningful.

There were so many opportunities when Strayed could have embellished her accomplishment that she didn’t take, that I believe it is all true, and I value highly honesty in a memoir. Fortunately the book moves along rapidly; you never feel the tedium that must have accompanied her on many miles of the 1,000 mile trail. That said, the character growth she acquired and portrayed in her writing during that six month period of her life is astounding. I highly recommend this book as a unique variation of “A Walk in the Woods.” It is very difficult to put down, once you’ve started your own journey along with the author.

Review of Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen

Spousal abuse is a challenging, difficult topic to both write and read about. I put off reading this book for some time, despite having read several other gems in Quindlen’s repertoire and knowing the quality of her work. And though it was still a hard book to take in, the skill with which she developed every character in this book made it well worth the effort. Spousal abuse doesn’t happen in a vacuum between a husband and wife; children and families are equally victimized and scarred for life, and Quindlen uses every bit of her remarkable writing expertise to make this point. As well, Quindlen used those skills most effectively to show the birth and evolution of an inherently flawed relationship.

Phimister’s verbal portrayal of every character was equally well-done. She captured well the painful suffering and confusion of the main character as well as her moments of joy, but easily slipped into the voice of a Bronx cop, an aged holocaust survivor, an eleven-year old boy and a Southern belle. Her reading was thoughtful and sometimes pensive, totally fitting a story wherein the main character is struggling to understand what happened to her life.

There are some stories in life where there can be no happy ending. This is certainly one of them, but it still ends on a note of realistic hope for the future, and I thank the author for that. I highly recommend this book.