Title: The Stranger in the Woods
Author: Michael Finkel
Star Review: ♥♥♥ /5
Hey folks! I figured that in addition to new stuff, it would be great to give you an idea of some of the backlist I’m reading in case it helps you to make future library and purchasing decisions! The first book from my backlist that I read in 2019 was this one. From the Goodreads blurb:
Many people dream of escaping modern life, but most will never act on it. This is the remarkable true story of a man who lived alone in the woods of Maine for 27 years, making this dream a reality–not out of anger at the world, but simply because he preferred to live on his own.
Intriguing, and this selection checks some boxes for me – I grew up in New England and I love reading about that extremely singular backwoods Maine way of life and culture. I listened to this book on audio, which was a good medium for the writing style. I think that the author did respectable work with an interesting subject. He had several hours of exclusive 1:1 interviews with Christopher Thomas Knight, the “Hermit” in question. Additionally, he extensively spoke with police, victims of Knight’s thieving, and psychologists and other “expert witness” types. Overall, Knight is not a person who is easy to categorize, and I think Finkel remains true to that while still providing a useful account of Knight’s life in the woods and subsequent capture.
This book, and many like it that come from the “exclusive access” angle, suffers from a touch of presumptuousness in understanding the subject. Finkel seems to intimate a deep understanding of Knight that I don’t think is there, and attempts to play up the importance of their relationship in order to lend credibility to the text. It seems, for Finkel, that this may be even more important, since it seems clear that Knight was at least in some part an unwilling participant in his fame. Finkel seems to use his thoroughness as a journalist and empathetic connection to the subject to avoid the appearance of paparazzi-like intrusion. I get that, but it feels disingenuous to me.
Overall, I think this is a solid read, especially if listened to on audio while cleaning or completing other tasks. If its objective was to rock my worldview, it did not accomplish that, but I learned about something interesting from an anthropological or sociological viewpoint.