Summer Book Club Review: The Hike

Welcome to VGBlogger’s Summer Book Club! All summer long, we will be providing weekly book reviews across a wide range of geek favorite categories, including art, comics/graphic novels, fantasy, gaming, and sci-fi, and welcoming you to join in on book discussions in the comments. So whether you’re heading out for a road trip, going on vacation, lounging beach/poolside on a nice sunny day, relaxing inside away from the summer heat, or simply searching for a good read to fill your free time, follow our Summer Book Club for our top picks of what you should be reading during these hot summertime doldrums. Please enjoy!

TheHike

Drew Magary’s The Hike wastes no time getting started, so neither will I.

From the opening chapter… Actually, scratch that. From the eye-catching front cover art, before even flipping the book open to its first page, The Hike immediately reveals itself to be a metaphysical down-the-rabbit-hole plunge to mindfuckland. Ben, the protagonist of this insane odyssey, who has a noticeable scar on his face, a bum right knee, and the propensity to beat objects, has left his family at their home in Maryland on a business trip to a small mountain inn in rural Pennsylvania. What’s planned to be an overnight jaunt goes awry in a hurry as Ben decides to take a hike on a path through the mountainside woods to kill time before his meeting at the hotel bar later that evening. A leisurely walk at first, Ben’s titular hike turns into a scene from Friday the 13th or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, when a killer masked in the real skin of a dog’s face, spots Ben and leaves behind a freshly dismembered kill to chase down his next victim, thrusting the oblivious Marylander into a parallel universe where there’s just one rule: stay on the path.

Fleeing a dog-faced murderer is but the first of an endless series of strange events and encounters poor Ben faces on his unfortunate hike to hell. His main companion for much of the story, for example, is a talking crab–named just Crab of course–with a snarky attitude and the mouth of a sailor. Just to make it clear, The Hike isn’t a story for the kiddie boppers. Ben at one point telling Crab to “go get fucked by a turtle” epitomizes the type of foul-mouthed humor readers should expect consistently throughout the book’s 278 pages.

As a gamer first and foremost, one of my favorite things about The Hike is the way it construct its narrative out of familiar gaming tropes, each chapter almost feeling like the next level in a video game’s progression. Like how Ben’s backpack uses the classic “magic bag” trick to store anything he puts inside. Or how a boss battle type of encounter provides Ben with the item necessary to solve a puzzle so he can proceed farther along the path. Or how a room door is locked red until the connecting hallway area is clear of danger for the lock to turn green and open. At one point Ben even finds a bestiary of creature descriptions and weaknesses. Indeed, gamers will be right at home with a copy of The Hike in their momentarily controller-less hands.

Interesting elements of flashbacking, foreshadowing, and symbolism are also used to great effect to provide little clues for attentive readers to pick up on. While traveling the enigmatic path, Ben, at moments of rest or unconsciousness, sleepwalks through dreams of past events in his life that have been skewed or corrected, bringing out glimpses of his backstory while also linking elements from his dreams to what he encounters on the path.

The Hike is a page-turner if there ever was one, every chapter bringing out some new twist or out-of-left-field surprise that grasps hold of your brain and doesn’t let go until the final period leaves your mind all the way fucked. However, for me anyway, the story does lose just a little steam for a short stretch during its third quarter, but the twist ending, which brings an earlier moment full circle in a brilliantly surprising way, caps the story off on a perfect Twilight Zonian note.

With elements of fantasy, horror, old folk tales, video game tropes, and even some light dips into sci-fi somewhat reminiscent of ideas from movies like Inception and The Matrix, The Hike easily could have been a messy hodgepodge of clashing themes, but thanks to bold, confident writing, biting, razor sharp wit, and the strong emotional punch of heart delivered by the prevailing theme of Ben doing whatever it takes to survive the path and reunite with his beloved wife and children, Drew Magary manages to weave all of these conflicting threads into an instant classic of contemporary fantasy fiction unlike anything you’ve read before.

Buy From: The Hike is available now in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook formats from Amazon.com or Penguin Random House.

Disclosure: A review copy of The Hike was provided to VGBlogger.com by the Viking Books imprint of Penguin Random House.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!