Marion McGilvary on Cheryl Strayed & Tiny Beautiful Things

18th August 2016

Cheryl Strayed‘s uncompromising, in-your-face ‘live your own truth’, ‘honour the universe’, hippy-dippy American words of wisdom make compulsive reading. I loved Tiny Beautiful Things. Yes, love, love,  it. Despite being a book of advice columns from the sad, conflicted and troubled, it’s not mawkish – it couldn’t be – not with Strayed illustrating her replies with tales from her own roller-coaster past.  In fact, right from the get go, in the intro, when you’re presented with the equivalent of a glass of straight, burn your throat out, meths in the form of a throw away remark about Cheryl’s childhood, you know you’re not chatting to Claire Rayner.  This is no cosy, cup of tea and a chat, sort of advice.  It’s much more relevant, compassionate and to the point than this.  I was shocked by the first revelation; but a few pages on when she talks to a woman who’s had a miscarriage and says ‘women will be crying reading this’  I was.  Then I went on crying.

Somehow, Strayed manages to be blonde and inspiring, extremely wise, kind, never patronising and yet gut-wrenchingly honest at the same time.  But even though the advice is for many very diverse situations, most of which I hope never to encounter in my own life, I took a lot away from the book.  I also sent copies to both my daughters and hopefully imparted a little of Cheryl’s sense.  She’s no pussy and she treads on ground I’d be wary of, but she’s also incredibly forgiving; empathetic yet stringent.  It’s the sort of book I’d like to give to all my friends and all their friends, and would be disappointed, hurt even, if they didn’t like it too.

It’s not for the easily offended who think we’re living in a fluffy, bunny universe, the innocently unconflicted, or the person who doesn’t want other to ‘share’ their ‘stuff’ but just wants to chat about the weather…  If that’s you, you probably wouldn’t want to read anything I liked, and we’d have nothing in common.  I used to be an agony aunt in another life but the problems I dealt with were made up by the editorial team of the magazine I wrote for and it was not a gig I liked.  Answering problems about made-up people’s made-up sex life in ways that are palatable for a national broadsheet was one of the more stupid things I’ve ever done, particularly as honesty was neither prized nor printable.  Cheryl tackles difficult circumstances with tact, but she doesn’t mince her words.  I’m definitely in Cheryl’s club – a happy founder, evangelizing member, so step up and be saved.

Tiny Beautiful Things is compulsive, bright, brainy, punchy, forthright, warm, spiky and extremely strong.  And I’m not just saying that because I’m paid to. It’s a total labour of love. Get a copy now.  Get two and give one to a friend.  If you love it – let me know and then buy a copy of Wild. If you don’t. What’s wrong with you?

Cheryl Strayed is the author of the critically acclaimed novel , the huge New York Times Best selling memoir Wild and the collection of essays Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Someone Who’s Been ThereHer work has appeared in numerous magazines and journals, including The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post Magazine, Allure, and The Rumpus. She lives in Portland, Oregon.