Saturday, 23 February 2019

Wild by Cheryl Strayed, 2012

©Alfred A. Knopf
Synopsis

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and she would do it alone. Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

My thoughts

In order to find yourself, sometimes you have to lose something. Or in the case of Cheryl Strayed, someone. Someone very dear to her, her own mother, who she loses to cancer. The personal tragedy leaves her distraught with grief and sets off a chain of unfortunate events in her life—estrangement from her stepfather and her two younger siblings; extramarital affairs and experiments with drugs; the heartbreaking decision to put down her horse; and divorce from the man she loved and who truly cared for her.

Cheryl is lost in the wilderness of her life. And it is the wilderness she seeks to find herself again or, as she says, “to save myself.”

Four years after her mother’s death, Cheryl embarks on an epic and a fascinating pilgrimage of self-discovery—all by herself—hiking the 1,100-mile Pacific Crest Trail that starts from the Mexican border and ends on the Canadian border. Cheryl, though, begins her redemptive journey from the Mojave Desert, hiking through California and Oregon, and finally making it to the Bridge of the Gods, a cantilever bridge, and to Washington state.

It takes Cheryl over three months to complete the hike, through imposing mountain ranges, forests and plateaus, record snowfall and extreme temperatures, and past deadly creatures such as bears and rattlesnakes. Her remarkable and seemingly impossible expedition, often assailed by fear and self-doubt, is as intimidating as it is beguiling, the rocky terrain as hostile as it is hospitable. In the end, Cheryl emerges triumphant, grateful to the PCT—“the long walk”—for making her whole again. 

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is an engaging and entertaining memoir etched with vivid details of Cheryl’s journey starting with her lack of preparedness, first with her humongous backpack she affectionately calls ‘Monster’ and then with her ill-fitting boots that cause her to lose the nails of her feet; the books she carries (including the oft-repeated The Pacific Crest Trail, Volume 1: California), reads and burns on the PCT; the many kind and helpful people, mostly fellow-hikers, she meets on the way and exchanges notes with; and the nights she spends alone in her tent, eating granola bars, listening to the voices in her head and the strange sounds outside. 

Throughout her journey, Cheryl recalls, with a tinge of pain and sadness, the life she left behind—her childhood, the abusive father who abandoned them, the stepfather who admirably filled his shoes, remorse over her failed marriage, and finally, the one person who meant the world to her—her mother, and the illness that snatched her away. The frequent flashbacks, however, do not take away the joy of reading about her hike, though, at 338 pages, I thought it was a bit long. But considering it’s a deeply personal and emotionally-charged account of her early life, the writer would be justified in telling it any how she likes. Cheryl tells hers in first person, in a candid, engaging and almost conversational style.


Wild struck a chord because I’d read of similar journeys of self-discovery, undertaken for different reasons. Notably, Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words, where Peace Pilgrim (Mildred Lisette Norman) walked over 25,000 miles on a personal pilgrimage for peace; the classic Walden, a life in the woods of Massachusetts, by Henry David Thoreau; and my personal favourite, In Quest of God and In The Vision of God by Swami Ramdas, the Hindu monk who walked the length and breadth of undivided India in search of spiritual salvation.

Nearly every one of us must someday get on the trail, not necessarily a physical trail, and find ourselves.

I plan to watch the 2014 screen adaptation of Wild where Reese Witherspoon plays Cheryl Strayed. I learnt of the film only after I read the book.



Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Book Extract: Justice Gone by N. Lombardi Jr

The 3Cs is delighted to reproduce an exclusive extract from Chapter 1 of Justice Gone by writer N. Lombardi Jr. The book, the first in a series of psychological thrillers involving Dr Tessa Thorpe, publishes February 22, 2019.

About the Book
 

© Roundfire Books
When a homeless war veteran is beaten to death by the police, stormy protests ensue, engulfing a small New Jersey town. Soon after, three cops are gunned down. A multi-state manhunt is underway for a cop killer on the loose. And Dr. Tessa Thorpe, a veteran's counselor, is caught up in the chase.

Donald Darfield, an African-American Iraqi war vet, war-time buddy of the beaten man, and one of Tessa's patients, is holed up in a mountain cabin. Tessa, acting on instinct, sets off to find him, but the swarm of law enforcement officers gets there first, leading to Darfield's dramatic capture.


Now, the only people separating him from the lethal needle of state justice are Tessa and ageing blind lawyer, Nathaniel Bodine. Can they untangle the web tightening around Darfield in time, when the press and the justice system are baying for revenge?”

The Extract

Bruntfield, New Jersey, just another banal town in a part of the country that nobody thinks about, was about to become famous; or rather, more aptly put, infamous. People sauntered past lackluster shops unaware that in a few days, the lackadaisical streets would bear the rabid frustrations that divided the nation; a pus-like bitterness that was held in check by the demands of everyday survival and the distractions offered by obsessive consumerism and brazen media would inevitably blame the cascade of events on the weather, since the origins could be found on a hot summer day in 2006. Sure, just about all summer days are hot, but this one was close to the record, and humid to boot. By the end of July, the Northeast coast was suffering under a sweltering heat wave. Despite the humidity, no one could remember the last time it had rained. A hundred-year drought was predicted, they'd said.

Bruntfield, among the many places under this curse, had its water supply so severely depressed that the city authorities were forced to impose water rationing. As if that wasn't enough, the excessive load on air conditioners led to incessant brownouts. With the weather nothing less than insufferable, suffocating, oppressive, even provoking, tempers flared along with the temperature. But the local situation, as bad as it was, was about to get worse.

In the heart of this small town, just a block up from the bus depot, sat Sliders, a rather successful drinking establishment catering to young adults, and noted for its ecstasy-fueled rave parties. At four in the afternoon, the owner, Joe Poppet, a burly man with a thick red beard and a well-developed beer belly, was staring out the large glass facade of his bar.

"Screw this heat, man."

Joe was sweating because he didn't want to turn on the air-conditioning; as a rule, he didn't put it on until a half hour before opening. He possessed a rather cynical personality, considering himself continually persecuted by life's little aggravations. Now it was the heat ramping up his electricity bill; soon it would be the freezing temperatures inflating his heating bill…always something. His worries constantly exceeded his hopes. He was sort of a "glass-half-empty" man.

Rudy Glum, the shaven-headed bartender, was an easygoing optimist, a "glass-half-full" kind of guy. He was whistling as he washed the glasses in the sink behind the bar. "Tell me about it," he chuckled. "I hear ya, buddy."

But Rudy's sanguinity did not rub off on Joe. "There's that guy again."

"What guy?"

"That fucking guy we saw yesterday."

"Oh, yeah, he's probably from the bus depot. Lotta homeless hang out there."

Joe continued to stare out the glass facade, feeling helpless.  "For Chrissakes, why can't the city do something and get rid of those bastards. They're a fucking eyesore…it's bad for business. Probably got diseases too."

Rudy finished drying the glass in his hand and hung it up on the beer mug rack. "Yeah, it's a goddamn shame," he said noncommittally, trying to get these glasses done before the evening crowd surged in.

"He doesn't have a shirt on."

"Yeah, well it's hot, ain't it? Wish I could take mine off."

"And we're opening in an hour. Ladies Night tonight."

Rudy said nothing while reaching for another glass from the sink behind the bar.

"Call the cops."

The bartender froze with the glass still in his hand. "And tell them what?"

"I don't know, tell 'em there's someone suspicious hanging out on the corner…trying to break into cars or something. That way they'll come fast."

Reluctantly, Rudy put down his dishrag, picked up the phone, and dialed 911, not feeling good about it at all.


Patrolman Rafael Puente might well be considered an unattractive man. A pencil-thin mustache above diminutive lips made insignificant by his large inflated face, gave his head the appearance of a balloon with a cartoon countenance. His acnescarred skin oozed sweat as he studied the thin disheveled man, shirtless with unkempt hair and a scraggly beard, standing three feet in front of him. "You were trying door handles on cars, eh?"

The man's body wavered, but his gaze was focused hard on Puente's eyes. Then his own eyes darted left and right, revealing his vacillation on how to handle this situation. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Puente began playing with his baton, twirling it down, and then back up smack into his palm. Rotating it down, rotating it up, like a long yo-yo…like the tail of an agitated cat ready to pounce. "Give me a language…tell me a language you speak in."

"Like what?"

Puente's tone rose in hostility. "Tell me a language you speak in."

"I don't know. What do you want to know?"

The humidity was so dense it felt like a sponge rubbing against their skins; so thick you could almost take a bite out of it and chew it.

"I want to know what kinda language you speak."

"I don't know."

"Yeah, well, what do you know?"

"I don't know."

"My partner, he speaks ten languages. Right, Foxy?"

Patrolman John Fox, a clean shaven, waspish-looking man standing to his right, smiled a mouthful of nice bright teeth.

"Yeah, that's right. I can speak Mongolian, Cambodian…" Fox came closer, boxing in the man they were questioning.

"He don't speak English," Puente told his partner.

"You don't?" Fox asked the homeless man.

The figure in front of them became fidgety. "What do you think I speak?"

Fox put his hands on his hips. "I don't know, you tell us. You're speaking English right now, aren't ya?"

Puente interrupted. "You know, it seems I see you all the time, and all the time I gotta say something to you. Do you enjoy that?"

"Oh yeah, I love bumping into you all the time."

"Really?"

The bearded man looked to his left and right, looking for an escape route while at the same time desperately trying to tell himself that these guys were just American cops and not the enemy in Iraq. He was trembling with the effort. "So, what do you guys wanna know?"

Puente's baton was still twirling with a pent-up belligerence. "I asked you already."

"I don't know what…"

"You trying to open car doors?"

"Well, I don't know what you're talking about."

"What does that mean, is that a yes or a no?"

"I don't know, don't know what you're hassling me for, man."

"You got any ID on you?"

"No. I don't need any."

"You don't need any?" Fox voiced with a rising tone of contempt.

"No, I don't drive, I don't vote, no credit card, and I don't use my passport anymore."

"So what's your name?" Puente asked.

"Felson. Jay Felson."

"What's your first name?"

"I just fucking told you, man. Jay."

"'J' is an initial. Tell me your full name."

"Jay, J-A-Y, Felson."

Puente, his question answered, went off on a new tack. "You know, I can take you to jail right now…loitering, suspicion of burglary."

"You don't have anything better to do?"

"What's in your knapsack?" Fox interjected.

"Why? You wanna search it?

"If you don't mind."

The bearded man swung his bag off his shoulders and handed it over. "Knock yourself out."

"Sit down," Puente abruptly ordered.

"Sit down where?"

"On the ground."

This was getting hard. Just cops, he reminded himself, but he suspected something worse.

"I said sit down."

"Where man?"

"Where you're standing, on the ground."

Felson plopped down on the concrete pavement.

"Put your legs out in front of you. Stretch them out."

Just do it. He did so, his arms at his sides supporting him.

"Put your hands on your knees."

No, this is a mind fuck, man. He ignored the command.

"I said put your hands on your knees."

Realizing he didn't have much choice, Jay drew his legs up first, then put his hands on his knees.

"Stretch your legs out."

He removed his hands from his knees and stretched out his legs.

"Put your fucking hands on your knees."

"What the fuck you want me to do. I can't do both."

"Give it a try, lean forward and put your hands on your knees."

Fox was going through the items found in the knapsack. "Got some letters here. They ain't addressed to Jay Felson…let's see, Casey Hull, Donald Darfield… You stealing other people's letters, boy."

"I'm gonna mail them."

"They already got stamps on them," Fox noted. "How come you haven't mailed them yet? You know, just slip them into a mailbox. There's one right over there on the corner."

Puente was still toying with his baton. "Let's take him in on a 4-96." Four-ninety-six was police code for handling stolen property.

Jay Felson, feeling an ache in his lower back, removed his hands from his knees, once again placing his arms in back of him to support himself.

"Hey, what the fuck I tell ya! Hands on knees!"

This time Felson was not eager to comply. He remained motionless in silent defiance.

Puente then reached into his back pocket and slowly, deliberately, put on a pair of latex gloves. He thrust one glove-laden fist in front of Felson's face. "See these fists?'

"Yeah, what about 'em?"

"They're getting ready to fuck you up."

"That just sucks."

"Put your legs out, put your hands on your knees"

"Hey, I'm sick of playing games, which one is it!"

Puente slapped him in the head.

"Hey, wouldya just fucking…"

"Put your hands on your knees!" he yelled, giving Felson another slap.

"Wouldya just fucking…"

Fox got on his handheld radio. "Code three, four-fifteen, bus depot corner Fifth and Clemston." (Code three, urgent, proceed with lights and siren; four-fifteen, disturbance.)

Puente slapped Felson's head a third time. Felson stood up, tired of being hit while on the ground.

Puente raised his baton.

Felson put his hands in front of him to display supplication.

"Hey, hey all right!"

"Get on the ground, get on the ground now!" Fox screamed. Both officers began to hit Felson on his legs and side with their batons, and he did what came instinctively-he ran.

"Take him down, take him down!" Puente yelled.

They grabbed him, got him down on the pavement, pressing his face against the concrete, and the real beating began.

"Okay, okay, I'm sorry, sorry, man."

"Put your hands behind your back," the two cops shouted, twisting his arms.

"Okay, I'm sorry…I can't breathe…"

The two cops were on top, Puente with a knee in Felson's back and Fox kicking him. "Stop resisting," they both yelled in turns.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!"

A second patrol car pulled up with sirens blaring and flashers blazing. Two more officers sprang from the car and piled on. One of the new guys, Victor Fratollini, tasered Felson, zzzzt, and Fox began walloping him over the head with his stun gun. Another unit pulled up. Two more cops, two more assailants, and seeing Fratollini smashing the homeless man's cheekbones with his elbow, joined in the fracas.

Zzzzt, zzzzt, zzzzt they tasered him again and again.

"Dad, Dad, help me!"

More tasering, six times now.

"Help me, Dad! I can't breathe, I can't…Dad…"

Someone pounded Felson's head into the pavement.

"Dad help me!"

A pool of blood formed beneath him. The six police officers relentlessly pummeled him, the scene resembling a feeding frenzy of enraged carnivores…until Felson was no longer able to call for his father.


© Reproduced with the written permission of N. Lombardi Jr and John Hunt Publishing (Roundfire Books)


N. Lombardi Jr (Photo supplied by the author)
About the Author

N. Lombardi Jr (N for Nicholas) has spent over half his life in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, working as a groundwater geologist.

In 1997, while visiting Lao People's Democratic Republic, he witnessed the remnants of a secret war that had been waged for nine years, among which were children wounded from leftover cluster bombs. Driven by what he saw, he worked on The Plain of Jars for the next eight years. Nick maintains a website with content that spans most aspects of the novel: The Secret War, Laotian culture, Buddhism etc.

His second novel, Journey Towards a Falling Sun, is set in the wild frontier of northern Kenya.

His latest novel Justice Gone was inspired by the fatal beating of a homeless man by police.

Nick lives in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. You can read more about him and his work at Goodreads.