For whatever reason, I have been incredibly moved and impressed by everything regarding the story of the life of Chris McCandless. It started with Into The Wild (1997) by Jon Krakauer. I am a huge fan of Krakauer and how he digs so far into the details to get a fair and honest picture of his subject without losing the emotional empathy that makes us connect in the first place. I will read anything by him. When I heard they were making a movie, I was afraid they were going to butcher it, but I was surprised. I also fell in love with Eddie Vedder’s soundtrack. So, when a friend pasted a link to The Wild Truth (2014) by Carine McCandless on Facebook, I figured I’d have to read it.
Carine McCandless is the younger sister of Chris McCandless, and she has a unique and personal view of the young man who left his family without a word and tragically died in the wilds of Alaska. She spoke with Jon Krakauer about her brother and parents when he wrote Into the Wild (1997), but she asked Krakauer to keep the details of their childhood from the book. Krakauer kept his promise. As far as I can remember (I read Into the Wild a long time ago), the reader understands that Chris is unhappy with his parents, but there’s not a lot of detail regarding why. With The Wild Truth, Carine McCandless finally tells the whole story of her and Chris’s childhood (as well as her father’s other wife and kids). It is a revealing look into an already familiar figure, as well as a disturbing glimpse into a deeply dysfunctional relationship and family.
Chris McCandless is compelling, charismatic and tragic, so it wasn’t surprising that I wanted to learn more about him. I was a little surprised, however, by how quickly I found myself relating to Carine McCandless. When I picked up the book, I wasn’t expecting too much. It’s hard to follow Krakauer, and McCandless is not a professional writer. But her writing was clear, descriptive and emotionally aware. I had a hard time putting the book down. I still sometimes yearned to learn these new details from Krakauer’s objective perspective, but overall I was impressed by McCandless.
The violence disturbed me but what shocked me the most was the emotional abuse and manipulation by both parents towards each other and towards their children. I cannot imagine how difficult and traumatizing it would be to grow up in that household. The hypocrisy between the face they showed to the world and the life inside the home was striking.
The story seemed to focus on how Carine and her siblings were moving past their childhood, but I wonder if Carine has thought about how her parents still influence her. Carine’s first marriage was to an abusive man, one who hid the violence until after the marriage. Yet the story of the abused child marrying an abuser is such a common story it’s almost expected. She was young and she got out of it, but growing up in that house had to have affected her adult relationships, which she doesn’t really explore.
Reading this story reminded me how much Krakauer made me care about Chris McCandless. It’s very easy to imagine that Chris had gone to the woods and figured everything out. But this book reminded me that he was a troubled young kid who was dealing with a lot of heavy stuff. If he had made it out, he still would have been struggling with the baggage of his childhood. This hit me hardest when Carine described going to meet a man Chris had met on his journey and who he greatly admired. This man ended up beating on his wife in front of Carine.
I learned of this book from a friend who grew up in difficult and similar circumstances. At the very least, this book fights against the secrecy and shame that surrounds abusive households. I hope that those people reading this can find some comfort and understanding.
Now I need to go back and read Into the Wild again.
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