In The Stranger in the Woods, Michael Finkel has written an endlessly interesting book about hermit Christopher Knight who lived alone in the woods west of Waterville, Maine for twenty-seven years. It would be extraordinary for anyone to live alone anywhere for that long, but Christopher lived his self imposed solitary confinement outdoors. He ate what he could steal from the people who owned seasonal cabins all around North Pond and Little Pond, as well as from the Pine Tree summer camp. He didn’t steal just food. Everything else he needed to survive out of doors for more than a quarter century he stole.
The reader at first is interested in the details of exactly how Knight managed to do all this stealing for so long without being caught. Then, there is the question of how he could survive the brutal Maine weather without once spending a night indoors in all that time. What did he do all day and all night long? What did he think about? Did he communicate with anyone? Did he have help of any kind?
Ultimately, the reader begins to come to grips with how he/she feels about Knight’s escapades if they can rightfully be called that. The entirety of what he stole was not that consequential in any one year, or even over the entire period before he was apprehended. He stole batteries, propane tanks, sleeping bags, books. He stole food–twinkies, canned soup, Drake’s Devil Dogs. He never stole a night in a cabin. He frightened people, never in face to face confrontations, heaven forbid. But the thought of a thief living among them was scary enough. Some of his victims thought of him as a Robin Hood, others as the lowest of the low.
What Christopher did not think about was his legacy. How would he be treated by his family and his friends when he got out of jail? What effect would all of this have on his mother’s and his siblings’ reputation and their relationship with their son/brother? I recommend the book as an engrossing read, and a feast for thought. Finkel anticipates the reader’s questions and answers them in a highly readable, thorough manner.