Sunday, December 28, 2014

Part Twenty-Three of a review of "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail," Chapter Eleven, Part Two: The Dialogue Goes Full Cheryl

A review of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed

Part Twenty-Three:  Chapter Eleven, Part Two: The Dialogue Goes Full Cheryl

We left off with Cheryl "Too-Oppressed-To-Be-A-Hobo" Strayed standing by the side of the road after having been refused a ride from that reporter from The Hobo Times who never existed.  Apparently Cheryl is feeling sorry for herself because,

"I stood there for a while, letting cars pass without even trying to get them to give me a ride.  I felt more alone than anyone in the whole wide world."
Anyone in the whole wide world?  You are too self-absorbed to continue living.  Please die.
She wonders where Stacy and Trina are even though she should know that they're, you know, in a car right now getting a ride because that just happened.  She then forgets what she wrote four pages earlier due to being a complete fucking idiot and says, "The man who'd picked them up was only going to take them about twelve miles east," and, ummmmmm, it wasn't "a man" who picked them up.  Wait, let's remember together:
"...when a couple in a Honda Civic had stopped, announcing that they only had room for two of us."
You couldn't even bullshit-check your own bullshit. 
Are you for real, Cheryl?  You can't remember what you wrote four pages ago?  Whatever, sure.  I'm over it.  All I can do is roll my eyes at this point because I exhausted my capacity for exasperation while writing the last part of this review.  She says that she's going to meet up with Stacy, Trina and the dog at Old Station, and pffffft.
She finally pauses her pity-party long enough to stick her thumb out and after a car approaches and keeps going, she concludes that the reason this one whole car didn't stop for her is because she's holding a can of beer (something Jimmy had given her in addition to the Hobo-Care-Package), and of course that must be the reason, because why else would someone not stop for The Great Cheryl Strayed.  She can justify anything in order to protect her giant ego.
Even though she's been holding a beer in her goddamned hand for however long, BEER! occurs to her for the first time ever and she "suddenly had the urge to drink it," and I take it back, my capacity for exasperation is apparently limitless, and I really should start recording a video of myself trying to write this so you can see exactly how much time I spend rolling my eyes, slamming my face into my hands and moaning non-words through my fingers in a pathetic display of agony.
The beer was a Budweiser, and here we go:
"In fact, that Budweiser was the first whole beer I'd ever drunk in my life-- but it tasted good to me, like beer tastes, I imagine, to those who love it: cold and sharp and crisp and right."
Budweiser tastes like piss.
She drinks this beer while she explores the contents of the Hobo Care Package that she was in no way entitled to (but took anyway because she's Cheryl and she's entitled to everything):
"...a pack of peppermint gum, three individually wrapped wet wipes, a paper packet containing two aspirin, six butterscotch candies in translucent gold wrappers, a book of matches that said Thank You Steinbeck Drug, a Slim Jim sausage in its plastic vacuum world, a single cigarette in a cylindrical faux-glass case, a disposable razor, and a short, fat can of baked beans." 
Cheryl immediately devours everything edible and leaves the can of baked beans for last:
"I pried it open in tiny increments with the impossible can-opening device of my Swiss army knife, and then, too lazy to rummage through my pack for a spoon, I scooped them out with the knife itself and ate them-- hobo style-- from the blade."
"I HATE YOU."  -- Jaime
I hate her, too, Jaime.  We all do.
Cheryl returns to the road, "feeling slightly hazy from the beer," and please stop.  One can of Budweiser isn't going to make you... oh, fuck it.  I just can't.  But don't worry, she's chewing two pieces of the peppermint gum "to sober up," and that's not how sobering up works, but all I can do here is throw my hands up in surrender and hope that one day, Cheryl gets drunk somewhere, attempts to drive home, gets pulled over and tries to explain, "But Officer, I'm chewing gum.  That means I'm fine."
After a few minutes of waiting on the side of the road, Cheryl "Automotive-Expert" Strayed tells us that an old white Maverick pulls over and-- brace yourself, this is about to go Full Cheryl in about 2.5 seconds.

Oh, god. 

Whatever, let's do this.
"A woman sat in the driver's seat with a man beside her and another man and a dog in the back seat."

Apparently they're all white because Cheryl doesn't point out any of the non-whiteness going on.

They're heading the same way Cheryl wants to go, so she accepts the ride.  She feels the need to point out what an unattractive, poorly-dressed lady the driver is:

"She looked to be about forty.  Her hair was frizzy and bleached blonde, her face puffy and pocked with old acne scars.  She wore cutoffs and gold earrings in the shape of butterflies and a grayish halter top that seemed to have been made with the strings of a mop."
Cheryl always needs to be the most beautiful person present.
You know what, you stupid bitch?  This lady stopped for your dumb ass, and the first thing you do is essentially call her ugly and then criticize her clothes.  I HAVE NO WORDS.  ALL I CAN DO IS VIOLENTLY SHAKE MY HEAD AND CONVULSE IN MY CHAIR.  You selfish, selfish, asshole.  I hope you get one of those flesh-eating parasites and die a slow, agonizing death.
Ugly Lady helps Cheryl get her pack into the trunk and makes a big deal out of how heavy it is because Cheryl needs to remind us of this in case we've forgotten.  She climbs into the back seat of the car with the dog and "the man," and then we have to deal with this:
"The man was lean and about the same age as the woman, his dark hair woven into a thin braid.  He wore a black leather vest without a shirt underneath and a red bandana tied biker-style over the top of his head."

Uh-oh, Cheryl has heard of bikers before and she's gonna make the dialogue go the way she thinks bikers talk, never mind that NO ONE IS A BIKER AND EVERYONE IS CLEARLY RIDING IN A CAR.

Cheryl struggles to find a seatbelt, takes a super-judgmental inventory of "the man's" tattoos and when she gives up trying to locate her seatbelt, the dog comes over and licks her knee.

"'That dog's got some motherfucking good taste in women,' said the man."

The man tells her that the dog's name is Stevie Ray, his name is Spider, the ugly woman's name is Louise-- but goes by Lou-- and the man in the front seat is Spider's brother, Dave.

Spider asks if Cheryl has a name and Cheryl is feeling apprehensive.  She introduces herself:

"'Oh yeah-- sorry.  I'm Cheryl.'  I smiled, though I felt a blurry uncertainty about having accepted this particular ride.  There was nothing to do about it now.  We were already on our way, the hot wind blowing my hair.  I petted Stevie Ray while assessing Spider in my peripheral vision.  'Thanks for picking me up,' I said to conceal my unease."
Oh, get over it.  You're about 0.5 seconds away from banging Spider, just stop.
Spider repeatedly says one version or another of the word "motherfucker" in ways that make no sense whatsoever because apparently that's how bikers talk, and he finally asks what Cheryl was doing out there on the road.  Cheryl explains "about the trail and the record snowpack" and blah, blah, blah, and then Spider decides to tell this story and no he doesn't, but sure he does because he doesn't really exist.
"'I've got a story for you, Cheryl.  I think it's along the lines of what you're talking about.  I was reading about animals a while back and there was this motherfucking scientist in France back in the thirties or forties or whenever the motherfuck it was and he was trying to get apes to draw these pictures, to make art pictures like the kinds of pictures in serious motherfucking paintings that you see in museums and shit.  So the scientist keeps showing the apes these paintings and giving them charcoal pencils to draw with and then one day one of the apes finally draws something but it's not the art pictures that it draws.  What it draws is the bars of its own motherfucking cage.  Its own motherfucking cage!  Man, that's the truth, ain't it?  I can relate to that and I bet you can too, sister."

Maybe I'm a big asshole for saying this, but I doubt a man named "Spider" who uses "motherfucking" as an adjective as liberally as he does is secretly a big scientific research fanatic who would recount this fascinating tale, never mind that none of what he has just said has anything to do with what Cheryl just told them all about hiking the PCT.  This story sounds like something Cheryl half-way paid attention to in one of her college classes and wanted to bring it up really badly to illustrate her own feeling of being imprisoned in life but didn't quite know how to go about doing it, so she made imaginary Spider say it.  Crazy, I know.  How dare I.

Bllllaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrgh, Lou tells Cheryl that she and Dave are going to get married in a week and that's when this happens:

"'You wanna marry me, sweetheart?' Spider asked me, momentarily grazing my bare thigh with the back of his hand, his turquoise ring hard against me."

Cheryl responds the way you'd think:

"The place on my leg where Spider had touched me seemed to pulse.  I wished he'd do it again, though I knew that was ludicrous."

My head is smothered in my hands at this point and I am tearlessly sobbing and wishing this would stop.

Lou tells Cheryl a very sad story about how her eight-year-old son had died when he was hit by a truck, and of course Spider chimes in to say, "He was a tough little motherfucker," because that's touching.  Since Cheryl can't have the attention away from herself for more than a paragraph, Lou tells Cheryl that's she so pretty, and then sadly says that all she has going for herself is that she's good-hearted, and that's when big asshole Cheryl almost transforms into a decent human being-- ALMOST:

"'That's not true,' I said.  'I think you're pretty.'
"'You do?' she asked.
"'Yeah,' I said, though pretty wasn't precisely how I would have described her." 
I can't even finish this chapter today, and there are only three pages left.  Yeah.  I'm done.


  1. What truly boggles my mind about this book is how many people lap this drivel right up. I can't believe that anybody buys these BS anecdotes, but the glowing reviews indicate that countless people do. I'm guessing Cheryl used the PCT as the backdrop for her tale because she knew that so few people are familiar with it. She can easily get away with making stuff up because the reader almost certainly won't have the knowledge to doubt her.

    There must be a gene that certain women have that makes them love these phony empowerment stories and read every one that comes out. It doesn't matter how outlandish or implausible the books are, they can't get enough. That same gene seems to make them eagerly dive into the cult of Oprah and hang on her every word.

  2. Luckily, I lack that particular gene.

    1. Thankfully, I lack that gene, too. Those people really infuriate me...I think that is why I LOVE this blog so much! It is validation!

  3. A reader just informed me that she flat out stole the ape-drawing-its-own-cage story straight from one of the books she claims to love: Nabokov's Lolita. And what do you fucking know--

    1. Oops, I loved Lolita and I don't remember that one... I'll have to stop burning the old pages :)

  4. Check out her plagiarism defense:

    Bruce Kuntz: Cheryl, the story you attribute to "Spider" in Wild about the ape that drew the bars of his cage is remarkably similar to something Nabokov wrote in 1956 in his essay "On a Book Entitled Lolita" which, as I'm sure you know, is included in most published editions of Lolita. Is this a coincidence?
    1 · February 4 at 4:18pm

    Bruce Kuntz: Turns out I wasn't the only one troubled by this:
    20 hrs

    Cheryl Strayed: The story I remember Spider telling me is very similar to an anecdote IN Lolita, which, yes, I read on my hike. Another reader pointed this out to me after the book was published and I think this blogger is right that I must have conflated the two in m...See More
    19 hrs · Edited

    Bruce Kuntz: I get the part about it being a memoir, and in fact one of my favorites of the genre, This Boy's Life, would hardly stand up to a rigorous fact-checking (but as it's author noted, memory has it's own story to tell). But permit me to play devil's advocate: Even some of the small details of Nabokov's anecdote ("1939 or 1940", "in Paris," "charcoaled") are echoed in Spider's version ("thirties or "forties", "in France", "charcoal pencils"), which suggests to me that Nabokov's essay was fresh in your mind when you wrote Wild. I first read Lolita and the essay in 1979, and although I never forgot the basic anecdote about the ape drawing his cage, I would never be able to keep the smaller details in mind for any long period of time. Perhaps your mind works differently.
    18 hrs · Edited

    Cheryl Strayed: There is nothing to play devil's advocate about! I'm with you on the curious complexities of the brain. I wrote that story as I remembered it, including those particular details. In fact, it's still as I remember it. It's only after someone pointed out the Lolita connection that I thought I must have conflated it with the similar anecdote Spider told me. I've not read Lolita since I read it on the trail and I don't believe I've ever read the essay you refer to, but if I had read it before or while I was writing Wild, it would've compelled me to question my memory of Spider's particular anecdote (even though my journal states he told me a story that involved an animal being caged, which I find really interesting). In any case, I'm not surprised about this. I rather expected it. Writing a book about one's life events is a fascinating journey into memory, subjectivity, and perspective. I'm quite sure there are other things in Wild about which I'm mistaken, though I did my sincere best to be as accurate as memory allowed. I didn't have a video camera strapped to my forehead (thank god--I was carrying enough as it was).
    1 · 18 hrs

    Bruce Kuntz: To be clear, American editions of Lolita (which I assume is what you read) include both the novel and the essay. The ape anecdote appears ONLY in the essay and does not appear in the text of the novel itself.
    7 hrs

    1. Ugh, sorry, here's the rest of Strayed's first comment:

      ....conflated the two in my memory. In my journal I noted that Spider went on a rant about being caged and the ways society keeps us down and I think I must have pressed these two stories together in my mind over the years because the two anecdotes echoed each other in my mind. I wrote it how I remember it. This is the reason it's called memoir!

    2. This lady is a piece of work. She can explain away anything, can't she.

    3. OK, let's say Cheryl really did get her memories mixed up. That's plausible.

      BUT how did it get past her editor? I would guess that more than one person at Cheryl's publisher read her manuscript before the final decision to publish, so why didn't ANYONE spot this? It's not like Lolita is an obscure book.

      Of course the answer is that her editor and the publishing house staff don't know their ass from a hole in the ground, and even in anyone did spot it, they probably did not think the target audience would. Based on what we see of Cheryl's fans on her FB page, that is a reasonable assumption.

      I'm not kidding when I say this book's popularity is a sign that our culture is in decline, DEEP decline.

    4. Have you ever seen the movie "Idiocracy?"

    5. I've only seen bits of it. (I just had to sneak a "bits" in there!)

    6. I see what you did there. BITS.

    7. Still doesn't explain "motherfucking cage".

  5. Read your blog with all the comments. I am still wondering if she, it seems like she did, expected "Paul" to pick her up at the airport and continue their sick existence? When I read, recently, that Marco (his real name) hasn't seen her in about 20 years; all I could scream is but Cheryl said you guys would love each other forever (even after the divorce)! What about the tattoos? I guess he had his removed and when they parted after signing papers, he just never saw her again. Which is normal. Something this book is not.