Book Review: This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!

Jan 15, 2016

This is KLCC.  I'm Connie Bennett, Director of Eugene Public Library, with a book review of "This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!" by Jonathan Evison. 

Bainbridge Island novelist Evison delivers a cleverly constructed, fast-paced fourth novel. His writing style intersperses the traditional sequential narrative arc with the breathless direct-address eclecticism of a game show host, using exclamation points by the cartload. Here’s a quick sample, complete with pin-ball references: “Hold on tight, we’re off and racing into the New Year, careening past switches, gates, and stoppers, ding-ding-ding, thwack off a live kicker, and hurtling headlong toward the drain!” It’s surprising and fun.

Evison has told interviewers, including NPR’s Scott Simon, that he wrote this novel as a tribute to the various elderly women who have transformed his life. As a teen, living in a senior trailer park with his grandmother, he was impressed by the surprising adaptability of elderly widows. They reinvent their lives, change their religion, their habits.

The opening pages of “This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!” certainly lead with that sense of promise, as Harriet embarks on a cruise to Alaska. But as the story zips back and forth from her birth to her current age of 78, certain disquieting facts are gradually revealed. Plucky Harriet struggles to forgive each successive layer of betrayal by her children, her best friend, and the ghost of her dead husband. And it’s tough. As Evison puts it in his Ralph Edwards style: “But it could be worse! Gallo could stop selling wine by the jug. And where would that leave you, Harriet? Bored and sober.”

Perhaps even harder for Harriet, and certainly for me as a reader, were her efforts to forgive herself for making the wrong choices in her life when she had only the illusion of choice, a victim rather than a true protagonist.

In the end, the message seems to be, don’t judge yourself too harshly. After all, the earth will keep spinning when you’re gone.

This is KLCC. I’m Connie Bennett, reviewing Jonathan Evison’s "This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!”