My buddy Seth from over on Pajiba got me this book for Christmas, and I have no idea why he’d think I’d be interested in a non-fiction account of a hermit who lived in the woods of Maine for 27 years, other than the fact that I live in Maine. Turns out, however, it’s a pretty fascinating book, and though I do live physically in Maine, I don’t follow the local scene that much, so somehow I managed to know absolutely nothing about Christopher Knight until I read the book (he’s apparently mythic here in the state).
It’s an insane account of a guy who — in 1986, and at the age of 20 — decided for no particularly reason to quit his life and take up residence in the woods. For 27 years, he lived alone and secluded, sleeping indoors only one night the entire time (he broke into a cabin and slept inside, but he hated it). I suffer standing at the bus stop with my kids for 5 minutes every morning during the Maine winters, and this guy lived outdoors for 27 winters. In fact, he never left his camp during the winter — he stocked up on stolen food and supplies, and never left his spot for fear that someone might spot his footprints in the snow and track him.
During the rest of the year, Christopher Knight broke into people’s summer homes — he said he robbed about 40 homes a year — and took food and books. Some of the area people were afraid of him; others would leave food out for him. The police had been trying to apprehend him for years, and it wasn’t until 2013 that they finally nabbed him during a robbery. For 27 years, he’d only spoken one word out loud. He had said “Hi” to a ice fisherman he had come upon. That was it.
Michael Finkel’s account of Knight’s time in the woods comes largely from interviews he conducted with him in prison, where Knight was held pending the outcome of his trial for robbery. I don’t know that I’d call him a fascinating man, but his decision to live alone for nearly 30 years was clearly a fascinating choice. The book digs into that, and when Finkel is speaking with Knight, or the local townspeople, or law enforcement, it’s engrossing. It drags a little in parts when Finkel tries to compare Knight with other well-known hermits.
I wouldn’t call it a page turner, exactly, but it’s a mostly riveting character study and, as someone who has lived in Maine for the last decade, it’s a damn good story to know.