I really, really wanted to like this book a lot–I had a hold on it for a while and was excited when it finally came in. Sadly, though, and similar to the subject of this book, what I wanted isn’t quite what I got.
I’d first read about 1930′s traveler/explorer Everett Ruess, as I imagine many have, in John Krakauer’s Into The Wild. In it, he compares Christopher McCandless to Ruess, and there is good reason. Both young men had similar feelings towards and interactions with society, and felt an inexorable pull to venture, mostly alone, into remote areas of nature. Both might have been a little inexperienced in what they were doing (or a lot), met pretty conspicuous ends, and they both have legends and a mystique that endures.
Ruess is an interesting subject, for sure, but this book seemed to lack something…unfortunately, I think much of it has to do with the fact that he lived and died (?) in the 1930s, and there isn’t a lot of fresh commentary from people who were involved. This is nothing that author David Roberts can do anything about, but it means that he has to rely on the surviving letters between Ruess and his family and friends, some bits of journals he kept, and some anecdotal commentary from the time. A good portion of the book is simply retelling what was already written, both by Ruess and by others who have since written about him, and there isn’t much in terms of engaging narrative or immediate connection. The rest of the book recounts the several attempts carried out to find out what happened to Ruess, including some that the author was involved in, and finally some scientific testing on remains that were found. There was a spark to some of this material, but there were so many leads that didn’t pan out that it was hard to believe something was finally going to happen.
In order to enjoy this book, then, you sort of have to be captivated by Ruess himself, and I have to admit that I wasn’t. I won’t go into details, but some of the personality traits displayed in his letters overshadowed his descriptions of what he was seeing and doing. I can admit that what he did, at such a young age, was remarkable and unique, but his story (or, perhaps, this story) didn’t interest me in the way I thought it would.
I hate to be a downer, but there it is. The next one will be better, I promise!