The Hermit

The Stranger in the Woods caught me off guard. The back cover sounded interesting enough to pick up and while I don’t read much nonfiction, but one seemed worth while. Michael Finkel’s writing hooked me and I fell under a calming trance during the story.

As much as I love being with friends and family, I appreciate solitude. Nothing is better than a quiet apartment a book. And still better, my family’s farm in rural Minnesota. Moving to New York helped remind me what real silence is like. Whenever I visit home, I walk the perimeter of our property and listen to the quiet, feel the stillness, talk to the cats. The Stranger in the Woods is like that; its slow, its quiet.IMG_2714

Christopher Knight lived for 27 years in the middle of the Maine woods. He robbed local cabins to supply himself with food and provisions. Knight was finally arrested when he was caught stealing from a camp and forced to reenter society. The story itself is true so I don’t want to comment on it, but I will talk a little on the execution.

Michael Finkel starts the story with a fiction narration style about the night Christopher Knight was arrested. From there, Finkel devolves to facts about Knight’s court case, doctors diagnosis’ of Knights intense introvert personality, and his own fascination with the whole situation.It seems odd that Finkel would leave his family in Colorado to travel to Maine several times while Knight is incarcerated, until he reveals he’s a journalist who has written similar pieces about “hermits” for National Geographic. Finkel spends a decent amount of the book talking about hermits throughout the centuries and from different cultures. Knight doesn’t fit the hermit mold, and I think this is what interested Finkel. People didn’t know what to do with Knight. He committed hundreds of counts of burglaries but didn’t hurt anyone physically. No one even saw him physically. Half the victims didn’t seem to mind, given rural Maine’s own code of ethics, and the other half were furious with him. There was no clean cut way to convict him.

Knight was a mystery to everyone and Finkel portrayed him as such. At times I would admire Knight and in the next paragraph be reminded that Knight isn’t the nicest person. He wants nothing to do with other people and isn’t cowed into expressing otherwise. For the reader who sticks with fiction, The Stranger in the Woods doesn’t have a tangible ending like you expect from most fiction. Knight is adamant that him and Finkel aren’t friends, and Finkel should never contact him again. So Finkel goes home, and that’s the end of the story. Finkel saw Knight reintroduced to society through to the end and that’s probably as far as the story will go.

There wasn’t closure, per se. Knight has disappeared into society as best he can. His story is still a moral dilemma.I don’t know if I can whole heartily decide if he should have been punished or not. I can say with conviction that I thoroughly enjoyed The Stranger in the Woods. It reminded me that silence does still exist, and
how filling and calming silence can be. I sort of understand why Knight fully cocooned himself in the woods. His silent story made me nostalgic for the farm and I know my mother would love a visit from her bit city daughter.


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