STARRED REVIEW
September 2015

Setting sail

By Jonathan Evison
Board the Alaska-bound Zuiderdam, a luxury cruise ship, alongside Harriet Chance. The 78-year-old widow has set sail using a pair of tickets purchased by her late husband, Bernard. Despite her children’s worry that Harriet is infirm, she sets sail alone, accompanied only by a letter from her best friend, Mildred.
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Board the Alaska-bound Zuiderdam, a luxury cruise ship, alongside Harriet Chance. The 78-year-old widow has set sail using a pair of tickets purchased by her late husband, Bernard. Although he never mentioned the trip, Harriet is touched by his thoughtfulness and determined to take advantage of his last romantic gesture. Despite her children’s worry that Harriet is infirm, she sets sail alone, accompanied only by a letter from her best friend, Mildred.

Well, that letter and repeated visits from—hallucinations of?—her late husband. It seems both Mildred and Bernard have something to say.

In This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!, author Jonathan Evison (The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving and West of Here) alternates between a cheeky narration of Harriet’s past and present. The chapters reveal Harriet at different ages and are written with unfussy candor when examining the present and recent past. When Evison portrays Harriet’s younger days, however, he employs a more hopeful, boisterous tone that underscores the exclamation point of the novel’s title. It echoes the cinematic approach of Evison’s previous work, painting a vivid picture that’s easy for a reader to immerse him or herself in.

Through carefully constructed vignettes of Harriet’s life, Evison peels away layers. What’s left is a core understanding of who Harriet is, and the layering of those events and defenses that led to her becoming that person. A book of secrets, This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! reveals how one or two choices can dramatically alter not only the course of your life, but the lives of many others.

 

This article was originally published in the September 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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