Tuesday, April 4, 2017

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

In a remote area of Maine, many families and owners of camp grounds are perplexed by a rash of burglaries that seem to be carried out by one of the most polite thieves in the world.  The burglar will take only what he needs, avoiding costly items, and cleans up when he leaves.  Some of the victims wonder whether they really have been robbed or whether it is a family member.  Maybe they are losing their marbles?  There are rumors of a hermit living in the woods but nobody has caught him, yet.  Until the night that Christopher Knight is caught while robbing a local camp ground of their foodstuffs.  Once Knight is caught and sits in jail to answer for the hundreds, maybe thousands, of break-ins that he has committed over decades, more questions arise than are answered.

I was very torn when reading the book.  I really enjoyed it.  It was well written and I felt like I was reading a novel.  I finished it quickly and enjoyed learning about Chris Knight (he is extremely likeable and his morals, despite being a thief, are above and beyond most other people) and solitude, in general.  Because this book it more about solitude than the case about Knight.  Finkel regales us with tales about his own time spent in solitude and includes thoughts from people, historical and contemporary, who have spent extended periods of time by themselves.  Scientific evidence both for and against seclusion are detailed.  Psychologists were consulted with to determine what, if any, diagnoses should be made for Knights mental state and what personality traits lead one to become a hermit.  I was fascinated with all the information because I, myself, enjoy solitude.  I joke with people that the best home for me would be one built on top of a very steep hill; one that screams "I don't really enjoy visitors."  The rub, for me, was that Chris Knight was not like other hermits described in the book.  He doesn't want to be a source of inspiration for others.  He doesn't want to write a book.  He doesn't want publicity.  I don't think he wanted a book written about him and, though he may have acquiesced (I get the feeling that Knight is a bit of a people pleaser, despite being a gruff loner), I don't think that he would have enjoyed that people are reading this book and becoming fascinated with his story.  Knight wanted to be alone.  He still wants to be alone.  We should leave him alone.  We don't need to ponder whether he is autistic or has a personality disorder.  We don't need to conduct interviews with him.  We don't need to attempt to selfishly garner wisdom about life from him.  We just need to leave him be.  That being said, it was a great book and readers who enjoy memoirs or true stories would enjoy the book.  I just felt there were some moral issues with the fact that the book was written, at all.

Reviews of books like this one:
Leave Me by Gayle Forman
The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

This book was a March 2017 Book of the Month club selection.   Subscribe to Book of the Month Club to receive one of five titles each month.

This book is currently available and can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  Read more reviews on this book on Goodreads.

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