I picked up The Walk by Richard Paul Evans because it was on a table and I needed something to read. I picked it up with no expectations that I would like it or even that I would read it all the way through just that it would occupy me for an hour at the laundromat while I waited for my clothes to dry. I knew about the huge success of Mr. Evan’s first book, The Christmas Box, and I had a vague idea that he wrote stories like Mitch Albom: warm message stories to make you cry. I was not prepared for how quickly I was hooked by this story.
It is a very simple tale, a Seattle man falls in love, achieves great success and then, when his life does not turn out the way he had hoped, decides to leave everything and walk away. Only he decides that walking away actually means walking clear across the country to Key West. It seems preposterous that anyone would choose to do that and even more so that anyone would want to read about them doing it, but it turns out to be quite a nice ruse to hang a story on.
The story is told in straightforward diary entries by young widower, Alan Chrisoffersen, who is on this journey to try to come to terms with enormous heartache and a callous betrayal. He has left his home with the barest essentials: a pack, a sleeping bag, a parka, a hat from Australia and some pop tarts and with no greater plan than to put one foot in front of the other in an effort to forget his pain.
The quotidian details of his search for food and shelter could be boring but Alan is an interesting traveling companion searching out unique places to visit that make his journey less about the step-by-step and more about what he finds along the way . Every one of his days is different because of the people he meets and every night when he finds a new place to sleep- by a waterfall, in a caboose or abandoned shack – you feel his fatigue and relief. And you hope he is not overcome by the devastating loneliness he feels when, finally at rest for the day, he is far from peace because the night is when his grief is most present.
One small quibble I have is Alan’s focus on food. He travels from diner to diner, eating enormous amounts of food that his daily trek burns off. As a reader this focus can be a little dangerous because even though you are sitting in your comfy chair and have not hiked 20 miles today you feel like you have and you want to fill yourself with banana pancakes, hot chocolate and strawberry Pop-tarts.
Alan meets a range of people, most of whom are kind though there are more than a few who are weird, rude and horrible. With each encounter he experiences powerful moments of discovery and hope that make clear his journey is more than a physical one. The ending is surprising, mystical, and, even he acknowledges, fantastic but it makes the 300+ mile journey he has taken so far seem like only the first step and it definitely makes you want to continue with him to find out what happens next. This book is the first of a 5 part series and once I put this down I picked up And Miles to Go because I needed to find out what happens to Alan on this journey and I definitely want to be with him when he finally arrives in Key West.