This is the second Krakhauer book we’ve read (Into Thin Air is the first). Krachauer tells the real-life story of Chris McCandless, a young man who seeks Adventure and Oneness with Nature and dies alone in the Alaskan wilderness in his early twenties. Chris’ life was lived in capital letters. He read fiction by Jack London, Tolstoy and other romantic authors. He read Thoreau and took it to heart. He believed that life among raw nature was the only pure and true existence. His passion was mixed with great naiveté and an unwillingness to take advice.
What the Armchair Critics Thought:
Some of us were deeply moved by a young man’s search for meaning in the wilderness. Others felt disdain for his hubris and narcissism. Most of us believed his estrangement from his father and mother (an extreme reaction to discovering his father’s early infidelity to his first family) fuelled his desire for purity and his childlike expectation that everything could be handled if faced right now, head on, full force. Subtlety and considered action were not among his strategies. The author’s style was similar to his earlier book. It was very much in the first person, in the present and thus resembled magazine interviews, which was how the book began. “I watch the old man. He goes to the window. He looks out and says…..” It was grating after a while. Also, the author interjected his own story about his contentions with this father into the book. Perhaps it was meant to show how other young men wrestle with their fathers, go into the wild and live to tell the tale. The conclusion would be that Chris was just unlucky. Many of us felt that Chris was more than unlucky, he was wilfully short sighted and naive. We definitely understood the author’s remarks on the mother’s grief: “Such bereavement witnessed at close range make even the most eloquent apologist for high-risk activities ring fatuous and hollow.” We understood, too, the mother’s anguish, “I just don’t understand why he had to take those chances.”