Craig Childs’ The Way Out: A True Story of Ruin and Survival wants to be a deeply introspective book. Childs details the story of a trip through canyons of Northern Arizona (specific location unspecified) with his friend Dierk Vaughn. The two have traveled extensively though the deserts of Utah but this trip into unknown territory challenges them both physically and mentally.
Although Childs and Vaughn are traveling together, most of the true narrative takes place in Childs’ mind. Much of the book is devoted to recollections of his alcoholic late-father. One gets the sense that Childs has never really decided how to come to terms with his father’s legacy: was his alcoholism a tragic end to a good man? or was he a father who just did not know how to love? Besides Childs own recollections, he remembers stories that Vaughn has told him about his life as a policeman. To me, these recollections were as much about how Childs saw the world as they were about why Vaughn was who he was.
My introduction to Childs as a writer was his article Heart Shaped River (subscription required) in High Country News this September. That article was entirely more upbeat than The Way Out and I enjoyed it a lot more. In the more condensed article length, Childs was more lyrical and concise. I’m a huge fan of this genre and The Way Out by all indications should have been a huge favorite of mine: reflection, fantastic canyon setting, adventure. Somehow, instead of being a favorite it left me cold, I was always waiting to delve deeper into Childs’ psyche or experience to really understand but I never got the chance.