It’s a necessary comfort to believe that this world is not the only world; that this reality is not the only reality. Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, the rabbit hole, hanging out with Don Juan Matus, bowling with Rip van Winkle, faerie journeys – we spend a fair amount of our time in this world imagining others. In those places, we mete out justice, knowledge inner and outer, and connections between things that aren’t linear or easily explicable. We meet life’s toughest and least palatable challenges. Secrets we dare not reveal to even ourselves are out in the open. And, in Drew Magary’s hilarious and touching novel The Hike, your cell phone works, on occasion.
Ben is on a business trip, stuck in an almost deserted inn way the hell out in the Poconos. Restless, with nothing to do, he steps outside and finds a path heading into the woods. He decides to take a hike, following the Path, then passes the “No Trespassing” sign, and before you can say “magic realism,” Ben discovers that this is not so easily dealt with as one might hope. This is not simply lost in the woods. This is capital-L Lost.
Driving the novel is Magary’s snarky, smart and very funny prose played against the combination of love and fear that Ben feels for his family “back in the world.” As Ben explores Magary’s carefully constructed otherworld, readers learn as much about Ben as we do about the otherworld. The key here is that both become equally compelling to us as readers. Moreover, we can intuit that Magary himself has had some of the “this world” experiences that threw Ben for a loop.
And while the going gets really weird, we sense and feel that the otherworld journey that Ben undertakes to meet, what’s at the end, as it were, is not as perilous as life itself. That said, Magary comes up with a bevy of excellent monsters. There are now and again monsters of “eating machine” variety, invested with an imaginative flair of reality and weirdness that makes them pretty scary nonetheless. But Magary is also smart enough to create plenty of monsters who have an actual character. They’re certainly engaging and in some cases unforgettable.
For all that Ben finds himself meandering in an otherworld, the book is built like a rocket. You’ll probably read it in a day. It’s funny and light-hearted, but definitely not light weight. For all that it is defiantly unreal, it is essentially about that which is most real, which is to say that place where our emotions spill out into the world. Until we experience them, our emotions are the merest wisp of fantasy; when we are in their grip, nothing seems more real. When you finish reading The Hike, you’ll realize that we all walk the otherworld. Strike a smile, shed a tear, walk a mile, meet your fear; the otherworld and this world are not so different after all.
Drew Magary on the other hand, is even less different than you might possible imagine. So, yes, the author of the book with the talking crab is the kind of guy you might expect to find at a PTA meeting as opposed to Comicon. We sat down and spoke at length and then put our heads together for a brief lightning round, which you can find by following this link to listen to or download, or just listen below.
Or settle back for the long form interview by following this link, or listen here: