“Tracks” by Robyn Davidson
In June, 1981 I was writing for The Real Paper, the smaller of Boston’s two alternative weeklies and the place where I began my journalistic career in January, 1981. My editor handed me a book to read and assigned me to interview the author. She was on a publicity tour and due to arrive in town a few days later. The book, “Tracks,” was a true story, a first-person account by a young woman who had undertaken a quixotic walk across the Australian desert accompanied by four camels, her much-loved dog and, every so often, for a day here, a day there, a National Geographic photographer.
I hoped to hell that it was a good book, because a face-to-face interview with the author of a rotten book is no fun at all. “Tracks” was a good book. A better book, in my opinion, than the outwardly similar 2012 best-seller “Wild,” by Cheryl Strayed, a memoir about a young woman’s long, lonely hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. Davidson’s story was so unlikely and compelling that at the time we met, director Gillian Armstrong (“My Brilliant Career”) had already signed on to helm the film version. For whatever reason, it didn’t happen. Nor did subsequent attempts, one of which was supposed to star Julia Roberts. It wasn’t until last year that the movie finally got made, with Mia Wasikowska playing Davidson and Adam Driver (of “Girls” and, come next year, the new “Star Wars” movie) as National Geographic photog Rick Smolan.
The movie also is good, though a bit dry – and not because it takes place entirely in the desert. It resists the temptation to spice up Davidson’s story with sex, nudity and exaggerated menace. The only baddies are a dishonest camel rancher and the intrusive sightseers and newspapermen who disrupt Davidson’s walkabout. To his credit, director John Curran aims to capture Davidson’s truth, though the result is a film that is less dramatic and certainly less sensational than what is expected in a hit movie these days. No doubt that the movie version of Strayed’s “Wild” – starring Reese Witherspoon, screenplay by Nick Hornby, due out before Christmas – will be a much bigger deal as far as the public is concerned.
Above: Rick Smolan with Adam Driver Mia Wasikowska with Robyn Davidson
After reading “Tracks,” I was both nervous and eager to meet its author, a person about my own age who had the daring, strength and know-how to complete an extraordinary journey I could never imagine undertaking myself. We spoke in Davidson’s hotel room. In person, she was not the least bit intimidating: more regular Jane than Superwoman. It somehow made her – and her story –all the more inspiring.
I wish I could find both my notes and my transcript of our conversation. Perhaps I will some day, along with the tape recording of the interview. Instead, here’s the piece I wrote for The Real Paper, a hybrid interview/book review. It appeared on June 4, 1981. Though I did not have any inkling of it at the time, The Real Paper would soon be out of business: its last issue was published two weeks later on June 18.