Monday, June 26, 2017

The Stranger in the Woods

The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel, 203 pages

For nearly 30 years, the year-round and vacation residents of North Pond, Maine, were the victims of regular burglaries of everything from car batteries and propane tanks to books and boxes of macaroni and cheese. In 2013, after more than 1,000 separate burglaries, the culprit was caught: Christopher Knight, a man who had been living without human contact in the thick woods near their homes for 27 years.

Finkel's biography of the hermit is based on a series of hour-long interviews the journalist conducted during visits to Knight as he was awaiting trial after his capture, supplemented by Knight's sparse letters to Finkel and Finkel's research into hermits in general. The result of all these letters and interviews and research is a rough portrait of a man who willingly withdrew himself from people, though he didn't entirely leave civilization behind — he did steal books and the odd TV and radio, after all, on top of all that food. It's a fascinating account, and Finkel does an excellent job of telling Knight's story. I wonder if Knight — an voracious reader with a wonderful dry sense of humor — has read it, and what he thought of it, though I'm sure we'll never know.

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