An author/lit professor/exercise fanatic chronicles his lifelong pursuit of endurance sports and survival training.
Marathons, cross-country skiing races, endurance hikes, epic rowing junkets, wilderness survival trips—National Book Award winner Casey (English/Univ. of Virginia; Compass Rose, 2010, etc.) has led a vigorous life worth writing about, and he does so in a muscular prose worthy of his manly pursuits. That’s not to say, however, that the narrative is driven by a testosterone-fueled need to prove athletic excellence or dominion over nature. Instead the author attempts to re-create on paper the mind-numbing cold of a snowy night spent huddled in a self-made shelter, the strange weightlessness of a long-distance run and the hand-shredding and leg-shaking fatigue brought on by hours of rowing. For all of the vivid descriptions, however, there is an analytical distance, the requisite probe for meaning engendered by the mind of a writer and teacher—not so much in the acknowledgement of the therapeutic power of exercise as a balm against divorce-induced depression, but rather in the effort to contextualize the intensely personal yet still communal Outward Bound experience, or to describe the kinship and camaraderie of like-minded individuals engaged in the same quest for something beyond health, vanity, endorphins or competition. Age becomes a more prominent theme as the essays progress, with the author concocting increasingly elaborate exercise routines to commemorate his birthdays. Casey shows evident pride as he details his continued achievements, but the same outward self-assessment that pervades the collection remains, a balance between acknowledging the passing of years while striving to avoid being controlled by them.
Occasionally self-indulgent, but the collection’s rustic charm and indomitable spirit transcend its flaws.