The Wild Truth exposes the real reason Chris McCandless went into the wild. This heart-wrenching story told by Carine McCandless explains the past that prompted Chris to leave his comfortable existence and walk into the woods. Carine shares her internal response when people thought Chris was crazy for doing what he did: “I wanted to explain that going into the wild was far from crazy; it was the sanest thing he could have done.”
This book is broken up into four parts: “Worth,” “Strength,” “Unconditional Love,” and “Truth,” with a foreword by Jon Krakauer and an afterword by Shelly, Chris and Carine’s half-sister. I found Carine’s story as compelling as her brother’s–her struggle to break free from abusive, manipulative parents was told with poise and with forgiveness. I think waiting the two decades to tell this story was an important part of why it was told so well. The distance of the event and the maturity McCandless expressed allowed this book to be an objective retelling of some horrible events.
At one point, as Carine browsed through the photos Chris had taken (but never developed–it was his family who developed them), Carine reflects on his happiness in the photos, so different from the expression on his face in family photos. She writes “I didn’t know everywhere he’d been, but despite the dissonance of emotions banging through me, I was glad he’d found what he was looking for.” And as she read his journals, she came to understand “Although he dreaded his impending death, he still died at peace, because the paths he had chosen throughout his life had kept him true to himself.”
I just started teaching Into the Wild again this past year, and The Wild Truth allows me to see more clearly between the lines Krakauer drew in that original text. Carine’s story reveals Chris’s motivations for leaving and his anger at his parents. It also demonstrates the deep love and loyalty he had for his sister, who he protected. What impressed me most about this book though, was not just the content, but the tone. In the last part of the book, Carine writes:
“It is not my intention to portray [my parents] as monsters, because clearly they are not. They are simply human and make mistakes as we all do. But I am absolutely certain that my witness to their mistakes, as well as my own, can serve an important purpose. I want every reader to benefit from the evidence of my family’s dysfunction in the hopes that it can help them make wise decisions to lesson these burdens in their own lives.”
This book is a must read for anyone who’s read Into the Wild, for anyone who’s suffered at the hands of emotionally or physically abusive family members, for anyone who wants to read a story of survival–not in the wilderness, but in the midst of middle class America. Because that’s what this story is to me–one of survival. Carine McCandless survived, and thrived, and I am certain her brother would be proud of her strength and resilience.