One of the writers Angie Abdou calls upon in This One Wild Life is Haruki Murakami, who, she tells us, wrote about running to try to understand what running means. In this memoir, Abdou writes to try to understand the world and why she responds to it the way she does. The memoir is partly about what it means to parent when parent and child are not alike. Abdou and her 10-year-old daughter do not respond to the world in the same way; Katie’s joie de vivre has a different source and expression than Abdou’s. Yet they both suffer from a fear (in Abdou’s case more a dread) of “social judgement.” Katie’s is expressed as a form of shyness so extreme she closes in on herself around other people. Abdou proposes a walking cure, which becomes the jumping off point for the book: She and Katie will hike—not just anywhere, but up mountains. They will hike “a peak a week” and thereby restore Katie’s confidence. Why mountain hikes? Abdou, like many of us, finds nature healing. Quickly, however, the bulk of the emotional energy in the book shifts to Abdou’s coming to terms with the criticism, on social media and in person, of her two recent books. She briefly broaches a connection between her response to the online fiasco that left her in a months-long depression and Katie’s fear, but, as with many interesting subjects she raises, only briefly.
The reader piggybacks on some family hikes, a few mother–daughter hikes (spoiler: Katie doesn’t love hiking), an enviable long solo hike, and, finally, the mother of all hikes with a friend that ends in a helicopter rescue. On the trail we partake in family life—some of it uncomfortable, some of it funny, thanks in part to Abdou’s wisecracker husband—interspersed with fragments of what Abdou reads to make sense of life. But the things that haunt us are not easily left behind; even in the wild, the online world tugs relentlessly.
As with hiking, writing is healing—to a point. “The page,” Abdou writes, “is always the place I go to figure out life.” She is conscious of how writers “decide what to include, what to exclude, what interpretive spin will work best,” of how she fictionalizes her daughter and even herself. Yet when she hikes alone, “I sink into the experience…. Hiking by myself introduces me to a world outside words and story.” Best of all, the mountains’ “indifference [is] calming.” In writing the wordless walk, she reaches deepest into what she’s trying for.
Hiking is something Abdou needs but her daughter does not. In the final pages we meet a 10-year-old whose confidence is increasing, perhaps from Abdou seeing her for who she is. The “peak a week” is abandoned, but mother and daughter are trying (to recall Murakami) other ways of knowing each other.
—Astrid Blodgett is an Edmonton short-story writer and editor.