Carine McCandless's The Wild Truth, a Memoir of Domestic Violence

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Westword: This is quite a remarkable story you tell. Talk about what this book is about to you. Carine McCandless: I wrote this book to honor my brother Chris, to share my story and that of my siblings in order to empower others that face tough circumstances that deal with domestic violence and family dysfunction. I think that is a good summation of this book. It is not so much a retelling of Chris's story. You don't follow up Jon Krakauer; it's like going on stage after Ella Fitzgerald. That was not my intent, of course. Jon wrote the forward. He was very supportive of this book, and it was just simply time to tell the rest of the story. Over the years, I've come to understand how important it is that people around the world who've been inspired by Chris's story have the rest of the details that have previously remained unknown, including answers to the "Why?" questions that have been lingering. Talk about your work with students.

I've been working with college students for years where Jon's book is required reading, and now they're looking into making my book required reading. I've just seen with that audience that understanding Chris better and why he made the decisions he made and why he felt the need to push himself to such extremes, with students in particular, I've witnessed it become something that's no longer just an assignment for them, but it becomes a real lesson and something that they identify with and can take with them outside the classroom. I think that's what Chris would want.

Talk about what the lessons are from Chris's life.

I think that the lessons are present in Into the Wild, but there are still a lot of people who are searching for why they have such a strong connection with Chris. They were often searching for a greater understanding of why they were connecting with him acutely. I recognized early on that I was viewed as a spokesperson for Chris's story. Over the years, I've become more and more comfortable with that and have understood the importance of truth and how important that was to Chris and how that was the best way to honor him.

I think it's important for people to understand how important honesty is in everything you do in life, how it affects your children, your family, how it makes you the best person you can possibly be in order to help others.

How do you hope this book impacts Chris's legacy?

Something I will tell you that gets discussed a lot, and not just in the colleges I go to but just in general conversations that people have, is that the topic of selfishness always comes up. People don't have an understanding of all that Chris endured as a child and the things that led him, ultimately, to Alaska. I think that they are looking for those blanks to be filled in, because they can tell there is more to the story, but they're trying to get past what can appear as selfish acts on his part.

Chris wasn't concerned about what other people thought about him, but I wrote this to honor him so people could learn from our story. This is not so much a book that focuses on Chris's death as it focuses on the survival of his remaining siblings, myself and six others, and that story, which I think is so important.

Our situation isn't so far out of the norm that people won't relate to that. I think that our level of family dysfunction, the violence that we dealt with, the turmoil that we went through, I think is relatable for people. It allows a lot of people to identify with this and to learn from it.

Back to what I was talking about with selfishness: It's selfishness versus self-awareness. That's something that I think people will really understand about Chris from reading my book. It wasn't that he was selfish. He was very self-aware and understood what he needed to do in order to be the best person he could be in the situations he encountered in his life. Unfortunately, he didn't survive to live out those lessons that he was teaching himself in adulthood and as a parent.

I felt, in so many ways, with Chris's life being half the length of my life -- I'm 43 now, 42 when I finished the book -- that I've always felt that I'm living for both of us. I want to honor that. I want to earn it. I'm not trying to compare myself to Chris in any way or to defend him. I think by opening up about myself, in ways that -- I'm sure you can tell from reading the book -- are very honest and sometimes self-deprecating, I'm analyzing the experiences and the lessons that I've learned from Chris in my life and how I've applied those things to my adulthood and to being a parent and the things that Chris didn't have the opportunity to do. I think that people will learn from that. I really do. I feel that this book has the ability to help a lot of people.

Read on for more from Carine McCandless.

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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris