I picked this book up Book Expo this year, and I was taken by the blurb. But then I read it and fell madly in love. This is Jonathan Evison's This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!.
Harriet Chance is 79 years old and has just lost her husband, Bernard, after a short fight with dementia. She receives a call telling her that her husband purchased an Alaskan cruise and the voucher is about to expire. While this is out of Harriet's comfort zone -- she likes order and comfort and Bernard's opinions -- she agrees to go with her best friend Mildred. In fact, it's the only way her beloved son and maligned daughter will allow her to go. When Mildred pulls out at the last minute and Harriet dares to go it alone, the tightly woven tale of her life begins quickly unraveling revealing to her that most of her life has been a lie. Family secrets are only as good as those who keep them, right, Harriet?
Let me start out by saying that this book was funny. It's not a typical family drama where, as secrets are revealed, the tension is heightened and you want to clench your fist. No, that is not Evison. He writes with such realistic absurdity that the only word that comes to mind is "charm." That's right -- this book was absolutely, positively charming. Harriet is a difficult character at first, but as you move through her story, jumping around in time throughout her entire life, you start to realize the life circumstances that have put her where she are. She is not a very sympathetic character, but few people are when viewed in two dimensions. She lives a long life full of twists and turns and choices -- and choices have consequences, for better or for worse.
Bernard was a horrible husband, but Harriet made decisions, too. Her children are not what they seem, but they are a product of parental choices. Harriet, when in full three dimensional color, is a positively wonderful and broken woman who did the best she could in life. I think what was so engaging about this book, besides the incredible prose and Evison's charming writing style and the full humor of it all, is that Harriet is, at the day, a character that we all can relate to, particularly as women. This was just such a lovely novel, and I found myself sitting and meditating on it as I closed it. I am grateful for having Harriet in my life, if only for a small time.
For purchase below.