Book Review: The Hike by Drew Magary
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Viking (August 2, 2016)
Length: 288 pages
The best description I can come up with for my mind-bending experience I had with this book can be summed up in the words of Jerry Garcia: “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” I had initially agreed to review The Hike with no small amount of trepidation, fearing that it might be too “weird” for my tastes. Can you blame me, though? I don’t even how I’ll do my usual novel summary for this review, because pretty sure anything I say will sound like the mad ramblings of someone on a bad acid trip, but here goes nothing:
Ben is a suburban middle-aged family man who takes a business trip up to rural Pennsylvania and books himself into his hotel. Before heading out to his dinner meeting though, he decides to explore around the area with a short hike. He sets off into the nearby woods, following a path he has chosen. Before long, he is beset upon by hulking man wearing the skinned-off face of a dog as a mask. Then there are more of them after him. Or something. Ben ends up running away, stumbling upon a campsite among the trees, and suddenly he is in his twenties again, staring into the face of his old college girlfriend. They sleep together and Ben wakes up. He’s back to his normal thirty-eight-year-old self again, with all his correct memories. But he’s still in the woods, and the girl is gone. All that’s left is a note at the empty camp which reads: “Stay on the path, or you will die.”
Ben stays on the path, all right. The book goes on for a bit longer in this vein. Along the way, he meets a talking crab, who lends him help. Then he’s kidnapped by a man-eating giantess named Fermona, who forces him to fight Rottweiler-men and dwarves in her gladiatorial arena. Up to this point, all Ben wants is to find his way back home to his wife and kids. But soon, he is given a mission: to find someone known as The Producer, supposedly the creator of this crazy world he’s found himself in. The “story”, as it is, keeps going on like this, as Ben spirals deeper into despair, wondering if he’ll ever see his family again.
I don’t usually go for books like this, so in case you’re wondering why I decided to give The Hike a try despite the publisher description clearly indicating that this will be a totally insane and off-the-wall experience, it was because of two words that jumped out at me: video games. Try as I might, I can never resist any novel with a video gaming, and I was also really curious to see how Drew Magary would weave together elements from video game and folk tale as the blurb suggests. Indeed, what we have here is completely unprecedented. Admittedly, the story does play out in a style somewhat reminiscent of those classic text-based adventure computer games, but I have to say unless you’re going into this using Catherine as a baseline for trippiness, this one is going to be WEIRD WEIRD WEIRD.
Typically, I prefer my stories to have a semblance of structure, as opposed to, say, just a random string of events thrown together—which was initially how this book came across. But just as I was starting to really regret my choice, Crab happened. Yes, Crab. To explain would be to give up spoilers, so all I’ll say is that my time with Crab changed everything. By the end of Part I of The Hike I wanted to cry. The revelation revealed there made me understand something about this book, like maybe there’s actually some rhythm to this madness, or maybe the madness is just the point.
At this point in my review, I actually had several more paragraphs planned. After some consideration, I nixed them. It was going to boil down to more commentary on why The Hike was so weird and wonderful, and why despite its kookiness I still enjoyed it a lot. I realized given the circumstances of this book, that’s all immaterial. It’ll either work or it won’t, and I don’t want to run the risk of potentially predisposing would-be readers if I make further attempts to describe its themes or to compare the story to something else, because any more would be revealing and that would remove a lot of the magic.
So throw everything you think you know about this book out the window. Even though it incorporates a number of elements from spec fic genres, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter; it’s going to do its own thing. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the moment I let go of my preconceptions was also when I started really enjoying myself. There is truly no guessing where things will go, and once you relinquish the reins and simply let this baby take you where it will, The Hike will delight you and enchant you and move you. I’m really glad I took a chance on this special gem.