I listened to the audio version of this book and Philip Franklin does a great job with the narration. I haven’t read Jon Krakauer before and I enjoyed the author’s writing style and the gradual unfolding of Chris McCandless’ story. I’d never heard of Chris McCandless before this and I found the story fascinating, tragic and scarcely credible in parts. If this had been fiction I can imagine the reader or listener berating the ‘hero’ for his lack of foresight and preparation before embarking on such a dangerous and uncertain journey.
Jon Krakauer explores Chris’ McCandless’s life, and death, through his family, Chris’ own notes, photographs and letters, plus the people he met on his travels, most of whom felt a compelling pull towards the young man and came to love him.
Basically, I’m not sure what to think. Here’s a highly academically intelligent young man who had a privileged upbringing, protesting strongly against world hunger and the wastage of food. He was angry at his father who lead a double life for several years, which is understandable. Perhaps it was a combination of these things, coupled with the books he was fond of reading by authors such as Jack London, Tolstoy and Thoreau to name just a few, which fired his imagination and passions for the idea of travel and survival in remote and unforgiving areas, ultimately the wilderness. He believed a person should own nothing apart from whatever they could carry. No longer would he answer to Chris McCandless; he was now Alexander Supertramp, master of his own destiny.
The story begins on April 27th, 1992 as Chris, or Alex as he now calls himself, is hitching from Fairbanks, Alaska and is offered a lift by Jim Gallien. He wants a ride to the edge of Denali National Park so he can just walk into the bush and live off the land for a few months.
Chris’ death was a tragedy which could have been avoided if he’d prepared for his stay in the wilds of Alaska with practicality and learned enough about endurance in such a harsh environment. That he chose not to, shows a lack of common sense, an underestimation of the wilderness and what it takes to survive.
Chris’ idealism and intensity caused a tremendous amount of hurt and suffering. It seems he had no thought of how his lack of communication would affect his parents, Walt and Billie, and Carine, the sister he supposedly loved. I can only imagine how distraught his family must have been during the whole time Chris was missing from their lives. Then, to learn he died in such dreadful circumstances had to have been beyond devastating.
During the course of the narrative Jon Krakauer does an impressive job of delving into the mindset of adventurers drawn to the ‘call of the wild’, including himself. It’s apparent, and understandable, that he feels a fascination for, and identifies with, Chris McCandless, given the parallels between their lives. He doesn’t claim to be an impartial biographer, quite the opposite. I don’t, however, agree with the view that Chris’ mistakes were innocent ones. He deliberately went into the Alaskan wilderness rashly, unprepared and without the basic necessities or any kind of reserve or support should he find himself in an emergency situation, despite all advice to the contrary.
In the end, Chris lived his life the way he wanted to, mostly isolated from people and minus the pointless, as he saw it, trappings of a materialistic society, and paid the ultimate price. It’s still a very sad end to such a short life. I found the recounting of the last few weeks of his life, via the journals he kept, very poignant. Especially since it seems Chris was ready to return to civilisation and, had he possessed the relevant map and knowledge, would more than likely have made it. Jon Krakauer’s theory on the cause of Chris’ death seems the most reasonable explanation and makes a lot of sense. I’ll be checking out more of this author’s work.