rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book is a fine companion to the 2007 Sean Penn movie. After seeing the film, I wanted to know what made Chris McCandless tick and what made him so angry. As a mother, I can't even imagine my son going off and not telling us where he was for two years. And then when he's found, he'd dead. What a horrible thing to have happened to Walt and Billie McCandless, Chris's parents. Through Krakauker's fine details of the landscape of Chris's travels, his interviews with those that knew Chris and his descriptions of other bold and tragic adventurers, we gain a clear context of what made Chris escape his late 20th century life in favor of being alone in the Alaskan wild.
Not only does Krakauer tell us why men must risk all to climb mountains and venture into the wilderness, he shows his vulnerability through his own personal narrative. When he was 23, he was determined to climb Skikine Ice Cap in Alaska -- alone. He made it, but it humbled him. From these experiences, he's the perfect author to understand Chris and give readers an idea of who Chris McCandless was. From this book, I know he was stubborn, arrogant, loyal, super smart, entrepreneurial and highly ethical. The people he briefly met on the road fondly remember him and feel that Chris positively touched their lives. He marched to his own beat. I made up my mind that Chris was born in the wrong century and just couldn't fit into postmodern America. My sentiments were echoed in the book by Andy Horowitz, one of Chris's close high school friends.
While reading I felt two connections to Chris: he graduated from high school 4 years before I did from Woodson HS (I went to Robinson Secondary, about 6 miles away) and we both grew up in Annandale, VA, about 5 miles from each other. I, too, found NOVA a stifling place and couldn't wait to flee from it the first chance I got. Like Chris, I never went back after graduating from Virginia Tech. We were also both competitive runners and I understand what makes someone good at long distance running: sheer will and raw determination. Chris had these in great quantities.
Yes, he didn't go to Alaska prepared, but he did survive for 111 days using his wits and living off of the land. Although it cost him his family and his life, McCandless lived his dreams and I believe he found redemption at the very end of his life. This books amply provides more of the answers and background information for fans of the film version.
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