08 January 2015

Wild again

I enjoyed the film Wild as I had earlier written; indeed, took my younger daughter to see it when she returned from vacation. Besides the exciting performance by Reese Witherspoon, Wild exemplifies the themes I desire my daughters to consider: a life of action and acceptance. No regrets. When Strayed crossed the Bridge of the Gods she had come to acknowledge that everything in her life has brought her to that triumphant and had  moment, and thus what once appeared to be error became part of the process of becoming. To my mind regrets misuse energy better served in living.
And so I picked up the book from which the film was made. I had been reading memoirs and autobiographies, and especially contemporary versions of lives lived under what the authors consider extraordinary circumstances: e.g. Mary Karr’s trilogy, Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle; and now Wild. I have written elsewhere on this blog about this genre, likening it at times to the 1950s television show Queen for a Day, on which women were invited to tell the stories of their hardships and the audience would be asked to pick as queen for the day the woman who could narrate the most miserable life. As her prize she would receive those things (a washing machine, a trip to the a beach, a new kitchen) that would enthrone her.
But I think I have begun to sense a particularity of style common to this genre. The writing communicates consistently a sense of urgency and imminent crisis in so many of its sentences and paragraphs. I suppose that in a memoir of this type¾in which the narrator survives crises by acts of strength and courage¾the narration of crisis is de rigeur. That is, the narration describes a life of survival in the face of great adversities, and the sense and movement of the sentences and the paragraphs contains the crisis. Either experiences of adversity of circumstances or moments of insight comprise the entire narrative. Sentences and paragraphs are constructed to communicate this sense: every moment is filled with urgency and every sentence contains that urgency. I read: “In the previous days I’d been charged by a Texas longhorn bull, torn and bruise by falls and mishaps, and had navigated my way down a remote road past a mountain that soon to be blown up. I’d made it through miles of desert, ascended and descended countless mountains, and gone days without seeing another person. I’d worn my feet raw, chafed my body until it bled, and carried not only myself over miles of rugged wilderness, but also a pack that weighed more than half of what I did. And I’d done it alone.” I cannot prove it right now, but the comment on the weight of the pack occurs earlier in the narrative as well.
And I think I am finding the reading of these memoirs both exciting and exhausting. Perhaps that is the intent of the style. The inclusion of exact and quoted dialogue makes me suspect, though I know that there is some motive to reporting common conversation to elicit traits of character and to break up the narrative flow. But I refuse to accept that one can remember exactly conversation for even one day much less for months and years, and thus, these passages of talk are more part of style than of truth. I compare this to say, Nabokov’s memoir, Speak, Memory, in which he eschews direct quotes and his narrative lacks all intensity and urgency.  

And so I am enjoying Wild, and still admire Strayed for both her physical and emotional accomplishment. No, more than admire: I applaud and accept her effort and her achievement. But I find myself exhausted after a while and have to pick up Pynchon’s Inherent Vice for some rest and relief.


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