The Hike by Drew Magary is a cynical mindfuck of a page-turner, which begs the question: Is it possible to have a more complete understanding of a person after being separated for more than a decade?
The book opens with Ben who, upon a whim, decides to take a hike in the Poconos and somehow gets lost in a parallel universe, or a dream, or a coma; part of the intrigue of the story is the mystery surrounding what precise circumstance has Ben experiencing this metaphysical world. As he gets more lost, we delve deeper into who he is as person and the memories past, which have shaped him, and in fact, have shaped his current predicament.
The novel presents a complete adventure, from start to finish, which takes Ben across an ever-changing landscape of trials, each one more mind-bending than the last. The inertia of the narrative is constantly on edge; not just pulling the reader through the story, but doing so at such a rapid speed that you’ll quickly lose track of page numbers. This is the kind of book where once you read those fated two words, “THE END,” you don’t stare at them and ponder what they entail; instead you slam the book closed, because you know in your heart that everything that needs to be said has been said.
Ben is the perfect character for the reader to discover themselves as: imperfect, lazy, cynical, crude, and deeply hilarious. He is an unwitting imbecile being prodded forward by fate, quick to notice his own suffering and loud at expressing it. Much of the humor comes from him trying to pinpoint exactly who is responsible for his situation, God or otherwise, and his feeble attempts to express his outrage. Ben has limited control; he’s being taken on a journey – just like the reader – and through his experience we get a more profound understanding of what really matters to him, and in turn, what matters to us. I am he as you are me, and we are Crab together.
As we experience Ben’s predicament, we ponder what it means to our own lives. For example, being lost in a parallel universe can be very similar to living with depression; people don’t know how to reach you, you feel dead to the world, you trudge along a predetermined path hoping it will lead to happiness. Then long enough on that path, years maybe, you can look back and see the progress you’ve made as a person, building yourself back up like a castle. It is in this way that Ben’s psychological experience is transformed from profound to personal, as his pain mirrors our own.
With full force you will be compelled to the end of this novel and (just for the sake of outdoing violent metaphors on the book cover) the ending will bulldoze your face with a spiked baseball bat, leaving your decimated jaw agape in silent wonder.