When You Find My Body by D. Dauphinee
Published by Down East Books on June 1, 2019
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg: 4.05 (as of 2019-06-16)
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own.
When Geraldine “Gerry” Largay (AT trail name, Inchworm) first went missing on the Appalachian Trail in remote western Maine in 2013, the people of Maine were wrought with concern. When she was not found, the family, the wardens, and the Navy personnel who searched for her were devastated. The Maine Warden Service continued to follow leads for more than a year. They never completely gave up the search. Two years after her disappearance, her bones and scattered possessions were found by chance by two surveyors. She was on the U.S. Navy’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) School land, about 2,100 feet from the Appalachian Trail.
This book tells the story of events preceding Geraldine Largay’s vanishing in July 2013, while hiking the Appalachian Trail in Maine, what caused her to go astray, and the massive search and rescue operation that followed. Her disappearance sparked the largest lost-person search in Maine history, which culminated in her being presumed dead. She was never again seen alive. The author was one of the hundreds of volunteers who searched for her. Gerry’s story is one of heartbreak, most assuredly, but is also one of perseverance, determination, and faith. For her family and the searchers, especially the Maine Warden Service, it is also a story of grave sorrow.Marrying the joys and hardship of life in the outdoors, as well as exploring the search & rescue community, When You Find My Body examines dying with grace and dignity. There are lessons in the story, both large and small. Lessons that may well save lives in the future.
When You Find My Body is a nonfiction account of the last months of Gerry Largay’s life. Gerry went missing on the Appalachian Trail in 2013, her remains found approximately two years later. The book spans from the time Gerry spent preparing to hike the trail through the aftermath of her final campsite being found. Dauphinee interviews some of Gerry’s trail friends as well as wardens who were involved in her search. He examines every aspect of her hike in the interest of providing as many answers as possible to readers.
While it’s obvious that Dauphinee is a good writer, he is not without his faults. Most notably, I found myself distracted by his unnecessarily gendered writing. He talked about “farm boys” who were “able to experience the exotic and beautiful unshaved, makeupless women”; how he has “seen men in kilts, which is always okay, but [has] also seen men in skirts”; and in one sentence is able to discuss how some people lose skin and toenails, but describes women as dealing with “feminine issues” instead of using the dreaded word “menstruation.” While clearly not intended to be harmful, I still found myself rolling my eyes and frustrated by it all nonetheless.
While the novel is relatively short, I’d argue it could have been cut down more. There is a lot of repetition, mostly when it comes to discussing Gerry’s life and her impact on those she knew. While I understand the point Dauphinee was trying to make, that she was a beloved woman who would be deeply missed by many, he hammered it in incessantly. There is also an abundance of information about how the AT originated and while some of it made sense to include, I also just didn’t find myself very interested in most of it.
Finally, I just had to wonder whether Gerry’s family gave her blessing for this book to be written. I felt uncomfortable reading this and not knowing whether anyone, her husband George in particular, had given the okay for what were potentially the hardest days of their lives to be laid out on display like this. Portions of Gerry’s diary (already made public) were shared, as well as email newsletters she had written for friends and family. It made me squirm to think there was a possibility that I was privy to something I shouldn’t be reading. I wish Dauphinee had been upfront about this.
Criticisms aside, it’s a good book. I enjoyed reading it, as much as someone can enjoy reading about a tragedy like this. It was clear Dauphinee did his research and reached out to as many different people as possible, and his writing really pulls you in. I’ll probably be recommending this to nonfiction lovers and hiker buffs.