The Stranger in the Woods
by Michael Finkel
Alfred A Knopf

Hermits can apparently be divided into three categories: protesters, pilgrims or pursuers. Perhaps for the sake of alliteration Michael Finkel sacrificed other types of loners this reviewer can think of, including the mentally ill and the very wealthy (or don’t people live alone on their islands in the real world?). But that is to deviate from the author’s subject: Chris Knight, who decided one day to walk off the radar into the woods of Maine. He survived by stealing: in the 27 years before he was caught, he burgled 1,000-plus cabins and camps, filching everything from boots to underwear. Knight didn’t offer a definitive reason for deciding, in 1986, to venture into the wilderness. Even his family didn’t know what had happened to him, so that when his father died, 15 years after his son’s disappearance, Knight was listed as a survivor in the obituary. Finkel, like others captivated by stories of outliers, pursued Knight after he was imprisoned for the various felonies, squeezing out “conversations”. The Stranger in the Woods does not have the grip of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild (1995), but there is something compelling about a story that cannot answer all the questions.