After reading Into Thin Air, Robert encouraged me to read more of Krakauer’s works. Into the Wild is the story of Chris McCandless and his journey towards an “examined life.” He graduates from college, gives away all his money and sets across the country – into the wild.
The shocking thing about the book is that you know how it is going to end after the first 3 pages. Krakauer tells you the end picture of Chris McCandless. I was half tempted to punt the book at that point. “What kind of author tells you how the story is going to end within the first 3 pages??”
But Krakauer isn’t trying to tell just WHAT happened. He’s more consumed with the HOW and the WHY. And on that level, he does an excellent job. Where Krakauer stumbles a bit are the three or four nostalgic chapters on his own adventures and a few other characters that had some parallels to Chris McCandless. Were they boring or over the top rabbit trails? No. But I’m not sure what was gained by them either other than it took up more pages. You’ll be entertained and informed at the end of those jaunts but I’m not convinced they were necessary either.
Where Krakauer is excellent is in telling the arc of the story of Chris McCandless and his family. He has laser sharp insights into family dynamics. It’s these insights that save Into The Wild from becoming another vehicle to bash the dysfunctional family. Chris learns that his dad not only divorced his first wife, but had an affair and was married to his mom BEFORE the first divorce was final. He learns this as an adult by investigating his parent’s past. It’s doubtful Chris EVER forgave or got over that incident on top of the value conflicts he had with his father.
Krakauer was careful in the book to point out that while Chris put many of his ideals in practice, he had his own huge blind spots of inconsistencies. The very past and family roots that Chris was trying to unshackle from, he wouldn’t allow his dad that same freedom. The men that Chris idolized – Tolstoy, London – led much worse private lives and lives that were completely at odds with the ideals they wrote about. The Great Alaskan Adventure that McCandless was so focused on not only ended tragically, but hardly in the “great wild.” He was 6 miles from a US Forest outpost, 1 mile from another set of cabins, and stayed for much of the adventure inside an abandoned bus.
There’s some time taken in the book to evaluate McCandless – was he an idiot? Did he have a death wish? Was he just another stupid young man who underestimated the Alaskan wild? What if he was none of those options? What if he was just a guy who was trying to find out who he was and he just made one mistake in the middle of that process? McCandless wasn’t stupid nor was he suicidal but the strength of the book isn’t in how Krakauer answers these questions.
The strength of the book is found in Krakauer insight of human relationships. The greatest sin of his father – in Chris’s eyes – was his insistence of doing what he wanted when he wanted to do it regardless of how it effected others. The son was guilty of the same sin but at a much higher consequence. It’s this insight that Krakauer nails exactly.