Saturday, April 8, 2017

[Book Review] The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finked book review

Because I am a born and raised Mainer, I followed the story about the "North Pond Hermit" in the news pretty closely when he was found. When I heard there was a book being written, I couldn't wait to get my hands on it! I was seriously like a little kid that was about to be handed a giant ice cream cone when I heard it was available at my local library.

Unfortunately, I did not like this book at all. Reading it actually made me angry. So angry that I've been sitting on this review for a while so I could cool off.

It didn't help.

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

I've tried to summarize this book numerous times, but I cannot come up with something pleasant. So instead, I am going to summarize the person and events behind the book.

Christopher Knight was only twenty years old in 1986 when he decided to leave society behind and live in isolation in the Maine woods. For twenty-seven years, Christopher battled the incredibly harsh Maine winters and the thick clouds of bugs that clog the air in warmer weather. He even survived the Ice Storm of '98. Through everything he remained unscathed. He prided himself in keeping his physical self as well as his camp clean and tidy.

To survive, he stole from cabins near Little North Pond. Each time he stole from someone, he felt incredibly guilty. Though he never took anything that looked valuable. He only took what he needed to survive; food, clothing, books and magazines, propane tanks, batteries, watches, and other important things. He was also very careful, only venturing out in the nighttime and during weather that wouldn't show his tracks.

Over the years, he became somewhat of an urban legend in the area. Many people reported the robberies, but began to think that it was a family member or a neighbor stealing from them because no one ever saw who did it. One day, a security camera caught a clean cut man on film, which added to the belief that it was just someone down the road that was stealing.

One day Christophers luck ran out and he was caught red handed stealing food from Pine Tree Camp. He was arrested.

My thoughts: 
Other first five chapters totally captured me! I loved the way that these were written.

Beware, the negatives: 
Unfortunately in the sixth chapter things started falling apart for me. The book turned away from the story-like format into a story that was incredibly unorganized. I had such a hard time following.

I also found this book to be incredibly repetitive. Rather than going from point a to point b, the storyline jumped forward or back in seemingly random intervals. So many things that we had already read were repeated to the reader as a refresher about a certain topic.

I also didn't care for all of the personal touches the author included. Like I didn't care about his family life or how he went on a silence retreat. I picked up this book to read about Christopher, not Michael.

I got really bored with the author constantly trying figure out the why behind Christopher's motives when Christopher himself said he had no reasoning. It was like he was reading far too deep into things an analyzing things that didn't need to be analyzed.

The authors insistent personality really rubbed me the wrong way. Mainers definitely appreciate their privacy. I was so irritated that he was told not to keep calling or visiting. Like my jaw dropped when Michael showed up at Christopher's parents house with a pie for Christopher's mother. I could not believe he dared to do that.

Many chapters of the book really dragged for me because they were more like history lessons. There was a ton of information and quotes from various doctors, hermits, or scholars that I simply didn't care about. I felt that it was far too much information. And again, none of it seemed organized. Sure, it was grouped by topic, but other than that it was just lumped together. Most of it honestly seemed like it was just thrown in to take up space. It reminded me of a middle school student writing a science research paper... throwing quotes in left and right just to try to make their argument stronger, but ending up going way overboard.

I wanted more about Christopher. I didn't want to read a person trying to figure out Christopher and making all kinds of assumptions.

My favorite lines:
He doesn't know, at least not without calculating, the year or the decade.

...the Maine summer, as every local knows, is that rare lovely guest who leaves your house early.

My final thoughts:
I would unfortunately not recommend this book. I gave it one star. To be totally honest, I enjoyed reading this simple article a lot more than the book.

Thanks for reading!


  1. I agree Erica. This book was a HUGE disappointment and the author really pissed me off with his pushyness too!


    1. Oh good! I'm glad I wasn't alone in feeling that way!

  2. Sorry that you weren't a fan of this one! I remember hearing how excited you were about it!

    1. Right?! Ugh, I'm still very bitter about it. I'm going to be discussing it for our work book club next week... we'll see how that goes! ;)

  3. I listened to the audio version and enjoyed it. To me the author seemed more obsessed than pushy...but these are probably two sides of the same coin.

    1. Oh! That's interesting!! Perhaps I will give the audio version a shot! I may have been putting my own tone into the narrative my reading the physical copy.