Monday, August 16, 2010

Into the Wild

I skimmed Krakauer's Outside article on Alex McCandless decades ago, but I've only recently read his 1996 book Into the Wild. It's recommended for parents with restless idiot kids, and for idiot kids to remind them of the people who love them.

Of course I say that having been, as a kid of 21, self-centered and fairly idiotic. And I say it after losing my even less sensible kid brother into the wild [1].

That's Krakauer's point -- a lot of feckless and reckless boys grow up to be good, even wise, men. Others die young and leave shattered hearts. The difference between dying from bad choices like Alex McCandless, and surviving equally bad choices like young Jon Krakauer, is often mere chance.

The true tragedy is not, in the end, the young life cut short. For these men that, at least, was a choice. The tragedy is all the broken hearts left behind. I feel for Alex's parents and loved ones.

Good book.

[1] It's unfair to claim Brian was less sensible than me, since we really don't know what happened to him after he left the Whistler Youth Hostel in the summer of 2002. Maybe he did fall in a crevasse atop the Rainbow Mountain glacier. Maybe not. We don't know.

3 comments:

nettie said...

I found the earlier (1993) New Yorker article more haunting -- http://www.chipbrown.net/articles/intowild.htm -- and I remember feeling a bit let-down by the book when it came out a few years later. (At the time I was confused and thought it was the same author.)

The movie, directed by Sean Penn, was also really good, and definitely better than I expected.

Michael said...

In an odd coincidence, Alex McCandless was from my home town--lived less than a mile from my house, and I'm pretty sure my sister knew him.

I wish we knew exactly what happened to cause him to lose it. However, I have noticed a correlation between unstable households and extreme wanderlust.

And I agree with nettie, the movie is definitely worth checking out.

--MN

John Gordon said...

Restless people do restless and unreasonable things. Sometimes that moves humanity out of Africa, sometimes it's a dead end.

Restless souls with high mortality rates are a bit of a challenge to the simpler versions of the 'selfish gene' model, but now that 'group selection' is pretty mainstream it fits current evolutionary models.

People like Krakauer and Alex and (to a lesser extent) me are cannon fodder for evolutionary exploration. Not so good for our genes mind you.

Nettie, I think Krakauer was trying to be very true to Alex -- which brings in more ambiguity and perhaps less haunting. He tells us in the book that in many ways its less satisfying than his Outside article -- because it's more accurate.

Michael, at least one of the side-characters in Krakauers book is clearly schizophrenic. Alex isn't a clear fit to a DSM diagnosis (at least from the book), but our ontology of neuro-variation is very crude. There are a lot of minds out there, and they follow complex paths as they age and grow.

I have a hunch, but just a hunch, that quite a few people develop "mild" forms of schizophrenia that actually resolve as the brain gets further away from adolescence.