First published in 2016
My rating: 2 out of 5
*I won an advance copy of this book in a Goodreads Giveaway.
The Short Of It:
Huh. Apparently this very strange and (in my opinion) poorly written book worked for many readers, but it just didn't click for me.
The Long Of It:
I was really expecting to like "The Hike." It's billed as a fantasy melding of folk tales and video games, and doesn't that sound intriguing? But, for me, the only redeeming quality this book had was a sarcastic, foul-mouthed talking crab. And given that our only protagonists are the crab and a rather dull 38-year-old man, it's hard not to love the crab.
Ben is your basic average joe family man, occasionally frazzled and irritated but mostly he adores his wife and kids. After traveling to a remote Pennsylvania hotel for a business meeting, he decides to take an afternoon walk in the woods -- except his leisurely hike turns into a seemingly endless battle for survival against strange and mythical beings, like men with rottweiler heads, a massive cricket, a man-eating female giant and some very mean smoke wisps. Oh yeah, and he's been informed that if he steps off the path, he'll die. Determined to get through the world's most horrible hike and be reunited with his family, Ben soldiers on, defeating obstacle after bizarre obstacle (none of which, I'm sorry to say, were particularly creative).
Basically, that's the whole book. Ben fights off strange creatures that want to kill him, doesn't stray from the path and pines for his family. There's no plot. On top of the aimless nature of the story, I struggled with the author's writing, which was the most bare-bones, basic, boring sort, and it lacked polish and beauty. (Since I read an advance copy, I'm hoping it was tightened up at least a bit before going to print.) I mean, at one point, the protagonist screams, "FUUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCCCKKKKKKKKKKK!!!! Goddamn you, you fucking asshole shithead path! FUCK!" (And, yes, I actually counted the number of Us, Cs and Ks. And, yes, it annoyed me that there wasn't a consistent number of each letter. Maybe I'm too anal retentive for this book.) To me, this doesn't seem like something a seasoned author would write; it feels more like a line a kid who knows he's not allowed to say the f-word would jot down in his notebook. Maybe that's part of the appeal -- to some readers, it feels fresh? But to me, the book mostly just seemed amateurish.
I read some reviews after finishing "The Hike" to see what I might have missed (it does, after all, have over 4 stars on Goodreads and Amazon!). Many readers said they were prepared to give it a lower rating until they got to the "wow" ending, which just brought everything together. I agree that the conclusion held a bit of a surprise, but what I was hoping for was a point to the story. What was the purpose of Ben's forced adventure? Without that -- and I'm pretty sure it didn't go over my head, but perhaps it did -- the story is just a sequence of absurd events.
This is a rather harsh review and I can see that I'm in the minority. But "The Hike" just did not work for me on any level.