Monday 5 September 2016

Book Review: The Wild Truth by Carine McCandless

The story of Chris McCandless, who gave away his savings, hitchhiked to Alaska, walked into the wilderness alone, and starved to death in 1992, fascinated not just New York Times bestselling author Jon Krakauer, but the rest of the nation too. Krakauer’s book and a Sean Penn film skyrocketed Chris McCandless to worldwide fame, but the real story of his life and his journey has not yet been told – until now.

Carine McCandless, Chris’s sister, featured in both the book and film, was the person with whom he had the closest bond, and who witnessed firsthand the dysfunctional and violent family dynamic that made Chris willing to embrace the harsh wilderness of Alaska. Growing up in the same troubled and volatile household that sent Chris on his fatal journey into the wild, Carine finally reveals the broader and deeper reality about life in the McCandless family.

I read The Wild Truth as part of the Nonfiction Reading Challenge 

I've always been drawn to the story of Chris McCandless. I admit to feeling conflicted about what he did - going into the wild without a map is such an idiotic and naive thing to do, but at the same time I can understand his sense of adventure and the desire to challenge himself. I've always felt annoyed by his story though - his death was so avoidable (if only he had a map!! He could have found another way out!) and unnecessary. And yet, because he died as he did, his life has become much larger than it may ever have had he survived the Alaskan wilderness. Chris has become an icon, a legend in his own right. Most people know his story and whether or not they agree or disagree with his actions, he has become a symbol of the wanderer spirit, the human desire to experience life to the full, to be present, away from the noise of modern society.

His sister Carine's book The Wild Truth is hard to read because you can feel her grief in every page. Yes she has, after more than twenty years, found peace with her brother's death, but it's also very obvious that he continues to be a presence in her life and her thoughts. I find Carine to be very courageous. To tell her story, to tell the absolute truth, the dirty truth, of her relationship with her parents - the violence, the manipulation, the emotional abuse - is so brave. I don't believe she owes them any protection. Her story is hers to tell. They have done some despicable things to her and all her siblings over the years - it's no wonder Chris 'divorced' himself from them. I don't blame him! So in my opinion, Carine is right to tell the story, to bring the truth to light. Truth was Chris's guiding force and I understand Carine's intention to honour him by revealing the real story of their childhood. She can't speak for Chris (nor does she want to), but this book is her way of explaining his actions, as much as anyone beside Chris ever can.

It's heartbreaking reading more of the McCandless story. Carine has had an often depressing life, aside from her brother's death. But it's obvious in her book that Carine strives to overcome hardships and to maintain her determination to succeed as a kind human being. If anything, Carine's kindness held her back for too long - if only she'd disconnected herself from her parents years ago, perhaps she'd have saved herself some heartache. But her longing to hear an apology from them, to see their behaviour change, to have them accept responsibility for the fractures in their family, kept her going back for more.

The Wild Truth is very well-written. Although it says it's the truth about what sent Chris into the wild, I found this book to be Carine's story. Chris is there of course, but Carine's intention to not speak for her late brother means that he is only a supporting character in her memoir. I feel Carine wrote this book as a cathartic way to release the guilt for holding back the truth when Jon Krakauer wrote Into The Wild. Carine says the way people misunderstood Chris has always been on her mind. She wanted to set the record straight, and I believe she has done so. 


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