About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

#62 - Into the Wild

Yes, indeedy, friends; it's Vacation Roundup Redux. #62 was Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer (New York: Villard Books, 1996). I saw the movie with a group of girlfriends several years ago, but hadn't yet gotten around to reading the book, despite having the paperback sitting on a bookshelf for quite some time. But that's what vacations are for, right?

Summary: "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. 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 drives and 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."

Opening line: "Jim Gallien had driven four miles out of Fairbanks when he spotted the hitchhiker standing in the snow beside the road, thumb raises high, shivering in the gray Alaska dawn."

My take:
This is a (reasonably) true historical narrative, but reads like a novel. That's not a bad thing, and Krakauer's journalism creds seem pretty solid; I didn't get the impression he was taking a lot of liberties with the story line. In particular, he doesn't take the approach Truman Capote did in In Cold Blood, inventing certain scenes (i.e., private thoughts of and conversations among the Clutter family) he couldn't possibly have been privy to for the sake of moving the narrative forward. Here, in contrast, he sticks to the facts, presenting only those conversations he could reconstruct through interviews with one of the parties. I'd say more were I not so behind, but if you haven't seen the movie -- and even if you have -- this is a fascinating and heartbreaking story, and well-written to boot. Read it.

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