The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When this book came across my book of the month email, I wasn’t really sure if it were fiction or non-fiction. From the description it’s not entirely clear. The premise of a man walking into the woods at the age of twenty and living in solitude for twenty-seven years is fascinating to me. I’ve personally daydreamed on more than one occasion about walking away from all of my stuff and just wandering into the woods (sorry Mom). I crave solitude most of the time and sometimes I’ll go entire weekends without any human interaction. I’m constantly surrounded by people every single day at work. I have to sit in the middle of a floor with hundreds of cubicles. Constant noise bombards me and I have to do what I can to tune it out. So…I dream of days where there is no one and nothing making any noise. Just me, my books, and my dog.
You could say that I related to Chris Knight. He became known as the North Pond Hermit. He set up a camp and lived off the land and the homes from which he stole to survive. The author is a reporter who caught wind of this story when Chris was caught and decided that he needed to know more about what makes this man tick.
The book is old school style storytelling at its best. You can almost imagine yourself sitting around the campfire listening to the tale of the legend of the Hermit of North Pond.
The author at times skirts the lines of acceptable behavior. The entire tome was written based on the author inserting himself into Knight's life while in jail. Yes, Knight could have turned him away at any point but I did have some trouble reconciling my understanding of Knight's wanting to be left alone with the author's need to understand. What would make someone do this?
Also touched on in the book are quotes from some of the people Knight stole from. Some were angry at the fear he caused. Others were in awe. When I first finished the book I was supportive of Knight's reasoning and methods. The longer I think about it though, the more it irks me. Because he didn't feel like participating in society he became reliant on society to take care of him in his theft of food and supplies. As much as I envy the peace he found in his solitude, it rankles me that he lived off people who were working hard to provide for themselves.
I suppose whether you agree or not, it's an interesting story. The book itself is well written and provides additional research into what drives a person to hermitage as well as some history of hermits. If you enjoy stories about real people who do things outside of the norm, then you'll likely enjoy this book.
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