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Friday, October 7, 2016

Book Review: The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel


I wasn't sure about this book. Was I going to like it? It looked really tempting. But so had Into the Wild, which was a rare DNF for me. Was this hermit going to be like that privileged brat? Was I going to end up rolling my eyes and frustrated?

Thankfully, no. One day Chris Knight drove to Maine (where he was from) with minor camping equipment, abandoned his car, and hiked for a long way. He stayed in the woods for the next 27 years. Everyone immediately asks what did he do for food? Well, he mostly stole. He really only took a minimum of what he needed, and mostly from the wealthy summer homes (never full-time residents). And that's how he got caught. He also broke into one summer camp and eventually a local parks agent put in security to catch the regular thief. Chris went quietly and peacefully. Articles cropped up all around the country and Mr. Finkel was intrigued and wrote Chris a letter which developed into a conversation.

Is Chris Autistic? Mentally impaired? Does he just hate people? What was behind his disappearance from regular life? What did he get from his solitude? How did he survive the Maine winters? The book answers most all of these questions enough. While Chris is obviously the opposite of a people-person, he's compelling and a true individual.

If you've ever had thoughts of just abandoning it all, if you've ever thought you'd like to get back to nature, if you've ever wanted to just get away permanently, it's fascinating to read about someone who truly did. In those 27 years, he only said, "hi" once. He was excellent at hiding, although he wasn't terribly far from society at all. And Mainers were more understanding and live and let live than most, which helped him go on for so long. It even opened Mr. Finkel's eyes somewhat about his own life and his own choices. Chris Knight was so interesting and unique. This book was a very fast and thought-provoking read. I read it in just two days and my husband immediately started it the same night I finished. I would have enjoyed it if it were twice as long, but of course with Chris's reluctance to communicate with anyone at all, it's exactly as long as it should be.

This book doesn't come out until March 2017, sorry! Put it on your TBR list now.

I got an ARC of this book for free from the publisher at the New England Independent Booksellers Association fall trade show.

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