Sunday, June 23, 2013

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Into the Wild

Overview from Barnes and Noble:

In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter.  How McCandless came to die is the unforgettable story of Into the Wild.

Immediately after graduating from college in 1991, McCandless had roamed through the West and Southwest on a vision quest like those made by his heroes Jack London and John Muir.  In the Mojave Desert he abandoned his car, stripped it of its license plates, and burned all of his  cash.  He would give himself a new name, Alexander Supertramp, and , unencumbered by money and belongings, he would be free to wallow in the raw, unfiltered experiences that nature presented.  Craving a blank spot on the map, McCandless simply threw the maps away.  Leaving behind his desperate parents and sister, he vanished into the wild.

Jon Krakauer constructs a clarifying prism through which he reassembles the disquieting facts of McCandless's short life.  Admitting an interest that borders on obsession, he searches for the clues to the  desires that propelled McCandless.  Digging deeply, he takes an inherently compelling mystery and unravels the larger riddles it holds: the profound pull of the American wilderness on our imagination; the allure of high-risk activities to young men of a certain cast of mind; the complex, charged bond between fathers and sons.

When McCandless's innocent mistakes turn out to be irreversible and fatal, he becomes the stuff of tabloid headlines and is dismissed for his naiveté, pretensions, and hubris.  He is said  to have had a death wish but wanting to die is a very different thing from being compelled to look over the edge. Krakauer brings McCandless's uncompromising pilgrimage out of the shadows, and the peril, adversity , and renunciation sought by this enigmatic young man are illuminated with a rare understanding—and not an ounce of sentimentality. Mesmerizing, heartbreaking, Into the Wild is a tour de force. The power and luminosity of Jon Krakauer's stoytelling blaze through every page.

My thoughts:
A number of years ago I watched the movie based on this book and I was struck by how selfish McCandless was and I did not seem to come away from it the same as other viewers.  I found it profoundly sad that he did not realize how important it is to have connections and share experiences with others until he was close to death.  I decided to give the book a try as I often feel the book is better than the movie.  While it was helpful to gain insight into why McCandless was angry with his parents and felt the need to distance himself from them, he still seemed remarkably immature and egotistical.

McCandless left his college apartment after giving his parents the impression that he planned to attend law school at the end of the summer and disappeared.  He never contacted them or his sister again.  He reinvented himself, renamed himself and lived off of the grid.  He became close to people for a time, but he seemed to have a much greater impact on them than any of them did on him.  He was befriended time and again and lived with and among people for stretches of time, but always later left to pursue the dream of being alone in Alaska.  He purposefully set off into the wilderness of Alaska ill prepared and carrying no maps. 

There are times when many of us would like to gain a little distance from society, but I can't imagine letting those who care about you and love you to be totally in the dark as to where you are and if you are safe and fed.  He never even talked to his parents about what it was he was angry about, never even told them that he knew some facts from the past that they believed were in the past.  His anger may have been justified, but he never found out more than a bare outline of the details and never gave them the chance to explain.

McCandless's adventure wasn't even all that far into Alaska.  He felt like he was all on his own, but he was within ten miles of civilization and everything he was trying to get away from.  He lived his dream, but his dream ended up killing him and I do not believe that he died happy knowing he had achieved it, but that he died alone realizing that he did indeed need and want to have other people in his life.

I wish the author had stuck to just McCandless's life and veered away with examples of other young men who behaved in a similar fashion, including himself.  Shorter examples would have been plenty and the long passages took the reader away from the story in a sometimes abrupt manner.  I am glad I took the time to read the book, and I understand his motivations a bit more, but I still have trouble seeing this from an overwhelmingly positive perspective.

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385486804
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/1/1997
  • Pages: 224

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