After the Fact Book Review

Into the Wild

Jon Krakauer wrote a novel in 1996 about a young man’s adventure in the Alaskan wilderness. Chris McCandless disappeared into the bush to experience nature at its most raw, armed only with his wits and the scantiest of supplies.

When they found his body later that year, it had been decomposing for weeks.

I was told by the Reddit’s book section that this was a must-read, even though I’d never heard it mentioned before. Bored, tired, and with five staples in my head, I decided to pass time and chewed up Krakauer’s novel in three days and nights.

These ‘After the Fact’ reviews are meant to share my thoughts after having read the book, and I encourage you to do the same. While there aren’t explicit spoilers, I find going into these things with no expectations far more rewarding.

Moving forward, here’s my favorite quote from the novel:

Had I not returned …. people would have been quick to say of me that I had a death wish. Eighteen years after the event, I now recognize that I suffered from hubris, perhaps, and an appalling innocence, certainly; but I wasn’t suicidal.
At that stage of my youth, death remained as abstract a concept as non-Euclidean geometry or marriage. I didn’t yet appreciate its terrible finality or the havoc it could wreak on those who’d entrusted the deceased with their hearts. I was stirred by the dark mystery of mortality. I couldn’t resist stealing up to the edge of doom and peering over the brink. The hint of what was concealed in those shadows terrified me, but I caught sight of something in the glimpse, some forbidden and elemental riddle that was no less compelling than the sweet, hidden petals of a woman’s sex. In my case that was a very different thing from wanting to die.

In many ways, this book is an inspection of masculinity. A man’s obsession with his own strength, fortitude, and ability to stand alone against adversaries is a big part of his character. Yes, there is a different version of masculinity in every man, but there are common threads that unite all of us.

The untamable desire to rebel against orders, authority, and to assert one’s strength into the world is as universal as adolescence itself. It manifests in various ways, but each method is an expression of aggression. Whether the aggression is physical, such as hiking and mountain climbing until your body breaks, or psychological, such as cutting off bonds with others, it is there in each assertion of masculinity.

Chris McCandless by the bus where they later found his body

Chris McCandless, the protagonist of Into the Wild, was an intense, stubborn, and likable young man. He got along well with others until they tried telling him what to do, and he held onto his morals closer than he did to his own family.

The novel examines McCandless’s life in ridiculous detail. The amount of research Krakauer did is astounding, and results in a very clear picture of Chris’s character.

While it may sound counterintuitive, the more specific you make a character, the more relatable he or she becomes to the reader.

The above quote is from my Writing Fiction textbook last quarter (slightly paraphrased).

McCandless served as a mental map to me of masculinity present in all of us. Which guy doesn’t want to prove himself, go up against ridiculous odds, be self-absorbed in some massive David v Goliath struggle, and survive? We admire these qualities in other men. Why do you think Batman is so insanely popular, with his constant brooding, psychological battles, and intimidating villains?

McCandless dies. This is not a spoiler, it’s written on the jacket cover of the book. His masculinity leads him to his own death, and not a painless death either. Like scores of men before him, he was quenching a thirst inherent in each man. Like scores of men before him, the journey claimed his life.

You hear men are stupid left right and center. Critics from across America labled McCandless as arrogant, inept, and downright stupid for doing what he did.

But he was young, frustrated, and passionate. The flame that burned in him burns in individuals across the world, and leads all of us to reckless behavior.

Masculinity is visualized as muscle, dark features, brooding eyes. But masculinity is first and foremost a state of being, and Krakaeur’s novel put into words why men are the way they are. It defined what stirs in all of our hearts, what makes us do the things that both define and scare us. It’s not a definite answer in any way, and I doubt a definite answer exists.

But it explores why young men are so reckless, so passionate, so easily lost in themselves, and so easily seduced by danger.

And when I put the book down, I felt a mixture of understanding and caution, because like reviewers, high school students, and adults before me, I saw the same feelings stir inside of me that drove McCandless to his young, harsh death.

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