Friday, April 24, 2015

Book Review: "This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!" by Jonathan Evison

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

At 79 years old, perhaps Harriet Chance hasn't quite lived the life she imagined. Her husband Bernard has been dead nearly two years but he has recently been showing up again (and not just when she's alone), and their encounters seem very real, despite the fact that everyone else thinks she's losing her marbles. When she finds out that just before his death, Bernard entered a drawing for an Alaskan cruise—and one—Harriet sees this as a chance to scatter his ashes and perhaps move on into her twilight years.

Convincing her children (who are doting on her for the wrong reasons) that she's perfectly capable of going on a cruise by herself is one thing; actually managing the cruise at her age is another. So what if she indulges in a little more wine than she should? She's entitled. But when a long-held secret is divulged, Harriet is utterly unprepared for how it will cause her to question everything she has held dear for 60 years, and even more, she's totally thrown by the surprise appearance of her estranged daughter on the cruise.

This is Your Life, Harriet Chance! is a rollicking ride through all of the moments, big and small, that brought Harriet to her current state. As further clarity is given to incidents in her childhood, throughout her marriage and raising her children, and caring for Bernard through his decline, you begin to learn that Harriet isn't as blameless as she seems for incidents in her life, but she's also not the only one responsible. This is a book about soldiering through disappointment when your dreams don't work out as you had hoped, the sacrifices we are forced to make in life and how we handle them, how our behavior and the choices we make can haunt us, and how love can both surprise and injure us.

I loved Jonathan Evison's first book, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, and this book had a similar banter-ish tone to it. This is both a humorous and emotional book, sometimes melodramatic, sometimes surprising, sometimes endearing. The narrator of the book kept referring to the way that each episode in Harriet's life would come up at random as like a pinball machine, and that is the way it felt at times. It was hard to keep the way her life flowed straight when things came up willy-nilly in that way, but although some of the incidents in her life were predictable, Harriet is still an interesting, albeit slightly flawed, character, even if everything that happened wasn't her fault.

I enjoyed this book, although not as much as Evison's first, but it's definitely and interesting and somewhat heartfelt look at the near-totality of a woman's life, and how each event somehow led to another.

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