Review: The Stranger in the Woods

“I think that most of us feel like something is missing from our lives. And I wondered then if Knight’s journey was to seek it. But life isn’t about searching endlessly to find what’s missing. It’s about learning to live with the missing parts.” ~ Michael Finkel

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel
191 pages
Genre: Non-fiction
Published by Knopf, 2017
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed by Indiana
Re-readability: I don’t think I’ll be coming back to this one.

There comes a point in most people’s lives, where running away from society seems like the best option. Whether it’s because people like the nature or hate other people, this option crosses everyone’s mind.

Christopher Knight took that option and became a hermit in 1986 at 22 years old. He lived in the woods of Maine, in a camp he fashioned out of stolen materials and he remained there for 27 years. In 2013, he was caught stealing from a nearby camp and shortly after went to jail. He got out several years later, as Michael Finkel documents.

The Stranger in the Woods is Finkel’s attempts at understanding why and how Knight left society behind. While Knight claims to have never spoken to another human being in those 27 years, there are two accounts of him communicating with people.

If the book is starting to sound like Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, there’s good reason for that. They focus on similar characters, though I struggled much more with Finkel’s account. I didn’t know too much about Finkel as a writer before reading the book, but it turns out that he’s also a freelance journalist who was in hot water years ago for making up a character for a story that ran in the New York Times. Even if you’re not in the news business, you should know that that’s ethically, morally and technically wrong.

Finkel talks about his infraction in the book, though not until he’s nearly halfway into the narrative. After that, I started to see him as an unreliable narrator and read the book more as a story than a work of nonfiction.

I was also conflicted about Knight’s methods of surviving as a hermit, as most are when they hear his story. It was hard to root for him or against him. It was obviously wrong of him to steal from all those homes and camps, and he says several times that he’s ashamed for doing that. But if he really felt that it was wrong, I don’t understand why he never tried to find a way to survive without stealing. Grow a garden, learn to hunt, etc. At the same time, it was difficult to root against him because we’ve all felt the need to be away from other people for an extended time period.

Knight was a puzzling character and the book didn’t offer up many pieces to help solve him.

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