The Hike is a thrilling adventure of existential calamity.
Imagine for a moment you’re out in the woods. The prospect of getting lost is an altogether realistic and terrifying one for certain. However, imagine if getting lost meant more than just not being able to find your way back home. Instead, your version of “lost” transcends what can be defined by reality. You become, in essence, a real world version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice. Furthermore, this new wonderland is in fact a nightmare realm that has stuck you on a path that you must follow if you ever want a chance at coming home. Should you ever stray from the path, you will die in gruesome ways you can’t even begin to imagine.
This is the gist behind Drew Magary’s second novel The Hike. Longtime nobody Ben is off on a work trip, leaving behind his wife and three rambunctious children for the weekend. For the most part Ben is a happy guy. He has a good job, a beautiful wife, and those children, whom he loves but is also simultaneously driven nuts by more often than not. Having arrived early for his conference, Ben checks into his hotel and decides to go on a hike before getting started with all that adulting. It is this small decision that literally changes the course of Ben’s life forever.
Before the events of The Hike, we learn quickly that Ben is the quintessential Joe Everyman! He’s got that American Dream with the picket fences and all that good stuff, but like most people, Ben’s a little empty inside. Sadly, he’s far too dull and just a little too thick to realize it. This fortunately makes for good opportunities for character development!
It also makes it kind of fun to see him suffer, which Ben will be doing a lot.
I Would Walk 500 Miles
Ben first realizes that he isn’t in New England anymore when he comes across two large men with the heads of Rottweilers. They are carving up bodies as casually as one might carve up a Thanksgiving turkey with likely the same purpose in mind. More than a little flummoxed, Ben makes to flee only to be discovered and pursued by said canine headed creatures. Things only get worse from here.
From this point on Ben is joined by many colorful characters over the course of his journey. This includes, but is not limited to, a smart ass talking crab and a Spanish conquistador from the fifteenth century. He’ll never be joined by more than one person at the same time, which helps to vary up the dialogue over the duration of the novel. This is important because Ben’s interactions with Crab versus those with Cisco will explore his growth as a character.
Ben’s adversaries are no less varied than his companions, consisting of giantesses with a penchant for human flesh as well as a fondness for pitting humans to fight against each other to the death. There will also be demons, phantoms, giant insects, and at the end of it all a character known only as The Producer.
Over the course of The Hike we learn more about Ben through flashbacks that he relives while on the path. Some of these flashbacks occur just as Ben remembers them, while others are altered to his preference in his subconscious unwittingly. Whichever it is, Magary is courteous enough to let the reader know just exactly which is which. These insights into Ben’s psyche serve as a means to see him grow in more measurable terms.
And I Would Walk 500 More
The books reads almost more akin to a collection of short stories instead of a single literary epic. I say this because each trial Ben faces always seems to have a breather before starting up the next one. In other words, there’s always a quiet before the storm. A beginning, a middle, a climax, and then an end, complete with rising and falling action to boot.
Again, this isn’t a bad thing, just strange for the pacing of a fully flushed out novel. Despite the fact that there is an overarching goal Ben is striving towards (getting home to his family) it’s as though each encounter is a story unto itself. It’s also easy to get lost in the moment only to have some of the most dire situations in The Hike end in a very anticlimactic manner. For all of the build each trial leads up to, Ben’s success can at times be attributed more to his dumb luck than any amount of skill or knowledge gained throughout his journey.
At times it may leave the reader wondering just what exactly is the point of this. What’s the point of everything? Is the book, and by extension Magary, just taking a nihilistic approach to the concepts so lauded in epics like The Odyssey? Honestly, it’s hard to say. What I can say having read The Hike is that no matter what, readers are likely to at least have fun with this book at the end of the day.
Just To Be The Man Who Walks A Thousand Miles To Fall Down At Your Door
You’re not going to derive a lot of meaning out of The Hike. The book is fun though, more fun than it has a right to be. The journey is clever and the characters crazy, Ben not least of all. Readers will be surprised at what Ben goes up against in his struggles to get home, but nothing will be more surprising than the two concluding chapters of this novel.
I think I can confidently tell you that Ben does make it to the end of the path and finds The Producer. Whether or not the reader figures out who it is by then may be up to how much they’re paying attention.
That won’t be the only surprise that the reader can expect however. Magary sets us up for a series of unexpected resolutions to questions we didn’t even know were being asked. At times it might feel as though these are failings in the narrative, but remember that The Hike isn’t meant to be a very deep read. Instead we are meant to be delighted and enchanted by how The Hike isn’t just about Ben, but about everyone undergoing a journey of self discovery. We all have our own flesh eating giants, demons, phantoms, and giant crickets to contend with as we grow. We will also at times have our own inner Crab and Cisco berating us along the way, giving us the drive to move forward even when we want to bury our heads in the sand and hide.
The Hike is just shy of three hundred pages, but the read is incredibly quirky. Readers will be kept on their toes just as often as Ben is, with the added advantage of not gaining any of his physical injuries or psychological scars along the way.
Final Verdict: 4 / 5
The Hike was written by Drew Magary and published by Penguin.