‘We are all on a walk. Perhaps not as literal as mine, but a walk all the same.’
This declaration from The Walk encapsulates what the book is all about, and why I found it so inspiring.
Alan Christoffersen is living the American dream – he’s a self-made man running his own advertising agency, married to his childhood sweetheart and living in an exclusive countryside neighbourhood with a lifestyle to match. Then suddenly like an earthquake, Alan’s life comes crashing down around him, all in a matter of days. His wife dies following a riding accident and while he’s at her hospital bedside his right-hand man pilfers the company’s clients. Then the money stops coming in and the bailiffs arrive.
Alan reacts by doing the only one thing that makes sense to him – something that has been living inside him for as long as he can remember – a desire to walk, a compulsion to go on a distant sojourn. Closing the door on his reposed house he sets off to walk to the furthest point on his map, a journey that will take him across America from Seattle to Key West, Florida.
A man I once met in Mexico told me that grief finds it hard to keep up with you when you’re on the move. What I really think he meant, was that you have a choice: you can let grief overwhelm you and fester in it, or you can choose to live. The story is written in diary form and follows a road movie-style narrative, a formula whereby the protagonist is a part voyeur and part student/teacher. Its style locks us into Alan’s mind, and how in the context of his grief, he engages with the communities and people who cross his path. Alan’s grief is often walking alongside him and yet he continues to put one foot in front of the other; leading him to where he does not really know, apart from the dot on the other side of the continent.
At first, the simple style of language and indulgent descriptions of Alan’s meals in small-town diners reminded me of Bill Bryson’s writing, but the semantics are far more than mere observation or contrived. The words put us in touch with small-town America or really the bubbles we build around our lives, a form of protection against the unknown, the comfort of familiarity; though as Alan has learned that bubble can be pierced at any time.
The Walk is about a man starting out again, traversing the past and the new roads ahead. It’s dotted with magic and those shaded elements of life, somewhere between the light and the dark. The story will appeal to anyone who believes the answers are out there, but the only way to discover them is to choose to walk the walk.
I’m hooked, the only problem is that my reading tower has just grown by another four books – there are five in the series!