PopCult Book Club Review #2 – The Hike

The Hike by Drew Magary
2016, Viking

margary

The Hike wastes no time in jumping right into the journey down the path. Ben is a businessman on a trip to the hills of Pennsylvania. Before dinner with a client, he decides to take a hike behind the rural hotel. He quickly becomes lost and finds himself on a path, a path that he must stay on or die. Ben meets a series of strange and fantastic creatures and finds he is on a journey of redefining the perceptions of himself. The resolution of the story brings a huge revelation that reframes the context of the entire novel.

Author Drew Magary is an odd fellow. He wrote for the sports blog Deadspin and currently GQ, he authored a nonfiction book on what a terrible parent he is and won a Chopped amateur competition. This unique point of view makes the prose of The Hike stand out. It’s sparse in a very Hemingway-esque style at moments. This is an interesting counterpoint to the ridiculous encounters like a cursing crab, a giant control panel manipulating cricket, and a good-humored man-eating giantess.

Magary cites books and video games as his main influence for The Hike. Homer’s Odyssey is a primary reference throughout the structure of the novel, a man on a quest to get back to his wife. There’re threads of Grimm and other traditional folktales woven throughout, particularly with an elderly woman in a cottage in the middle of the forest who turns out to know much more than she first lets on. There’s also some outright horror, especially with the Doberman-masked madmen that pursue Ben throughout the story.

Magary stated in an interview that many of the elaborate and silly solutions to problems in the text are inspired by the illogical or irrational reasoning of many King’s Quest PC games. I remember the monster manual Ben comes across in the hotel, and it’s utterly ridiculous methods for killing the bizarre and strange creatures listed therein. In the same interview, he explains that impetus of the novel came from his similar experience of going out and getting so easily lost in the woods.

The novel felt fairly like some fun fluff and then when Ben learned about his fate from the crab and confronted the Producer I started to see a significant turn in what was happening in the subtext. The final scene where Ben sees his wife again after decades of being away, while only a few hours have passed in real world time, and also has the revelation about what happened to her years ago was the big change. The Hike is a story about how impossible it is to share the effects of trauma and life-changing experiences. Ben sees it in his wife’s eyes, realizing she lived through the same journey as him, but we are left in a place where we see they cannot connect on this. The journey was such a singularly personal one that even though they see it in each other’s eyes we know they will never be able to sit down and share anything about it.

Discussion Questions:

How do you successfully communicate personal trauma and life-altering experiences?

Ben goes through a major metamorphosis throughout the Hike. Is he the same person on a physical level at the end as he was when he started? What makes our physical form our self?

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