When I read the book during an ill-fated book club a few years ago, I was constantly torn between admiration for Strayed for undertaking a difficult journey and frustration at her motivations and gained “insights.”

The feminist undercurrent is welcome, but I was still just as frustrated that a major lesson turns out to be this: “There’s no way to know what makes one thing happen and not another, what leads to what, what destroys what, what causes what to flourish or die or take another course.” That’s a pretty good summary of what it means to have an external locus of control. It’s good that Strayed doesn’t actually believe this because she couldn’t possibly have completed her trip if she did.

The writer Rebecca Cusey thinks that, “Cheryl never finds a transcendence beyond the boundaries of her own self.” I agree.

The movie’s director, Jean-Marc Vallée, also directed Dallas Buyers Club which also had moving moments and excellent performances from its actors, but that I also thought was deeply flawed. Whatever that movie did to help humanize those struggling with AIDS in the early days of the epidemic, it also presented scientists and the FDA in particular as villains willing to make people suffer without good cause.

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