A captivating, often hilarious novel of family, loss, wilderness, and the curse of a violent America, Dave Eggers's Heroes of the Frontier is a powerful examination of our contemporary life and a rousing story of adventure.
Josie and her children's father have split up, she's been sued by a former patient and lost her dental practice, and she's grieving the death of a young man senselessly killed. When her ex asks to take the children to meet his new fiancee's family, Josie makes a run for it, figuring Alaska is about as far as she can get without a passport. Josie and her kids, Paul and Ana, rent a rattling old RV named the Chateau, and at first their trip feels like a vacation: They see bears and bison, they eat hot dogs cooked on a bonfire, and they spend nights parked along icy cold rivers in dark forests. But as they drive, pushed north by the ubiquitous wildfires, Josie is chased by enemies both real and imagined, past mistakes pursuing her tiny family, even to the very edge of civilization.
A tremendous new novel from the best-selling author of The Circle,Heroes of the Frontier is the darkly comic story of a mother and her two young children on a journey through an Alaskan wilderness plagued by wildfires and a uniquely American madness.
Dave Eggers is the author of ten books, including most recently Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?, The Circle and A Hologram for the King, which was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award. He is the founder of McSweeney’s, an independent publishing company based in San Francisco that produces books, a quarterly journal of new writing (McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern), and a monthly magazine, The Believer. McSweeney’s also publishes Voice of Witness, a nonprofit book series that uses oral history to illuminate human rights crises around the world. Eggers is the co-founder of 826 National, a network of eight tutoring centers around the country and ScholarMatch, a nonprofit organization designed to connect students with resources, schools and donors to make college possible. He lives in Northern California with his family.
Being the Dave Eggers fan I am, I started reading this book shortly after it arrived on my Kindle at midnight last night - from a pre-order many months prior. Immediately, my thoughts were "I'm so happy"!!! "Oh....I'm enjoying this"...."Damn, this is good....I'm so excited!!!!!" "It's good, it's good! It's GOOD!!!!!
The surroundings - geography - wilderness - environment as the backdrop of this story is entrancing.
Josie has just arrived in Anchorage, Alaska with her two children, Paul and Ana. Josie lost her dentist practice after being sued by a patient's family for not diagnosing oral cancer to a woman name Evelyn, whose condition is terminal. Josie is also grieving the loss of another patient who she supported when he wanted to go overseas and serve the country. He died. She also didn't tell Carl, the kids father that she was leaving Ohio, crossing the state line. Whether or not it was illegal, she hadn't checked. Carl and Josie never married...but it didn't take long for Carl to marry after Josie asked him to move out. Carl is living in Florida with his new wife. Wow....I'd say right from the start....Josie could be on the brink of collapse....and now she is going to be a single parent - of two 'small' children in unfamiliar territory...in tight quarters to boot. Risky...and scary!
With three thousand dollars cash on Josie - ( in a velvet bag)...Josie was hoping she was untraceable, untrackable. She rented an RV- "the Chateau", .....( ha, -more broken down than luxury), for three weeks from an older-retired man- and planned to visit a stepsister, Sam. Josie had never been to Alaska but she was craving a plainspoken and linear existence centered around work, trees, and the sky. "She wanted no more of the useless drama of life. If theatrics were necessary, fine. If a human were ascending a mountain, and on that accent there were storms and avalanches and bolts of lightning from angry skies, then she could except drama, participate in drama. But suburban drama was so tiresome, so absurd on its face, that she could no longer be around anyone who thought it real or worthwild".
Josie's description of Carl is funny and pathetic. A handsome guy with long lashes and green eyes, full of energy, never had a steady job- he played kickball...rode bikes to get ice cream, his libido was unstoppable, -and he was four years younger than her. At 27 years old he was a man- child. There's more to Carl and his background ...but what's important to know, is that Josie was happy to be away from him. "Stasis had been killing her". At age 40, Josie is free from human entanglements. "But could she really be reborn in a land of mountains and light? It was a long shot"
The two children are as different as night and day. Paul, 8 years old....is calm, reasonable, composed, sensitive, his patience was astounding, mature, thoughtful, maternal, and honest. He takes care of Ana...like a personal assistant -and best friend. He cares for people more than things and is wounded deeply by the thought of any suffering endured by any living soul.
Ana, 5 years of age, is often bumping into things or breaking plates - she wakes up in the morning ecstatic and goes to bed reluctantly. ....As for caring about others feelings, she really doesn't care.
There was a scene when soon after Josie, Paul, and Ana pulled into Homer ---where they were going to soon meet Sam the stepsister ( ha) ...they stopped to eat at "Political Pizza Place". It didn't take Ana long to break the towel rack in the bathroom - for this '5' year old CHILD.... BUT.... It also didn't take long for Josie to down her third Chardonnay --slurring her words on a Monday afternoon ....basically intoxicated! Is it me.... or should we worry? The RV was parked across the way... Thank God, Josie (THE ADULT in this family)... 'Walked' back to the RV... slept off her 'state-of-being' while the kids watched a video of Tom and Jerry. There 'were' scary moments...when it could have been easy to sit back and judge Josie for her choices --possibly putting her children in danger.... but in actuality she gave her children gifts. The kids witness their mom struggle with difficult emotions and transition .....but they were each uncovering their authentic selves --facing curves life throws at them with more strength and responsibility.
Throughout the story....Josie is looking back... thinking about Carl, her parents, ( they had been nurses at a hospital), her childhood ...musicals at home as a child- awareness of Vietnam...addiction realities, ---( grief of her own recent situations)... AND.... Josie is looking forward - looking to the future -- living in the present.
Dave Eggers wrote a terrific - enjoyable new novel!!!! I'm left with my own thought.... from when a time - years ago- when I left the country for two years.... I wasn't sure if I was running away from my life -or searching for explore and see the world. A little of both! What I did learn is....."I take myself with me no matter where I go".
Dave Eggers crafted a fulfilling novel .....and perhaps an important path to understanding ourselves and finding inner peace.
*EXCERPT: "There is proud happiness, happiness born at doing work in light of day, years of worthwhile labor, and afterward being tired, and content, and surrounded by family and friends, bathed in satisfaction and ready for a deserved rest – – sleep or death, it would not matter."
"Then there is happiness of one's personal slum. The happiness of being alone, and tipsy on red wine, in the passenger seat of an ancient recreational vehicle parked somewhere in Alaska's deep south, staring into a scribble of black trees, afraid to go to sleep for fear that at any moment someone will get past the toy lock on the RV door and murder you and your two small children sleeping above".
This book is Dave Eggers free of limits and boundaries: free of the facts in What is the what and Zeitoun, free of the specific story settings in The Circle and A hologram for the king, free of his own biography in AHWOSG. This is a beautiful, endearing, outrageous Eggers.
This book is...
... a lesson in how to write a novel. ... yet again about an American, dysfunctional small town family, but it leaves the competition far behind … one on which publishers should put a sticker with the warning: 'will give readers soar cheeks because of abundant smiling' ... resembling the better Sundance film in its realness and glow, minus the melowness. ... a reinvention of the adventure story. ... a punch in the face of the American dream .... an ode to nature and mobility ... a roadtrip you 'll never forget, about one of the most memorable families in literary world
This gem will be in many best of 2016-lists. It's only weakness is that it won't provoke a lot of discussion on Goodreads because it's very hard not to like ;-)
"The novel is a slapdash, picaresque adventure and spiritual coming-of-age tale — “On the Road” crossed with “Henderson the Rain King” with some nods to “National Lampoon’s Vacation” along the way. It’s not as moving as “Hologram” and hardly as bravura a performance as the author’s stunning debut, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” but Mr. Eggers has so mastered the art of old-fashioned, straight-ahead storytelling here that the reader quickly becomes immersed in Josie’s funny-sad tale. (...) Mr. Eggers’s cleareyed portraits of these children remind us of the indelible portrait he created in “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” of his 8-year-old brother, Toph, whom he brought up after their parents died within weeks of each other. Of Toph, he wrote: “He is my 24-hour classroom, my captive audience, forced to ingest everything I deem worthwhile” — “to not have Toph would be to not have a life.” That bone-deep knowledge of a child’s relationship with a parent informs Mr. Eggers’s portraits of Paul and Ana, and their love for and dependence upon Josie — by far the strongest and most deeply affecting parts of this absorbing if haphazard novel." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
Absorbing, yet haphazard novel. That is exactly it. It took me a while (more than 200 pages) to really get into this one. The meandering plot and daydreaming prose didn't seem to go anywhere but Eggers' characters dug deep into my heart and I finished the novel with a profound and very satisfying feeling of cumulative emotional power that still resonates within me to this day.
The more I reflect on this book, the more there is to think about. Underneath its seemingly simple plot (a mother of two goes off on a road trip to Alaska to escape from her life), runs a powerful undercurrent of American existentialism, very similar to the one you can feel in films like "About Schmidt" or "American Beauty".
The themes of restlessness, independence, social and geographical mobility, consumerism, freedom, family, domesticity, self-actualization, choices and children are all addressed sideways, all evoked with subtlety and a quiet, muted persistence. Eggers is a very eloquent and elegant writer.
I really love books that are tough nuts to crack. I actually love having to stop and ask myself "What is going on here? What is the author actually trying to say?" Richard Ford does this. Jim Harrison does this. Mark Slouka does this. Zadie Smith does this. Their themes run deep beneath the surface and yet they are right there for the eye to see if you are willing to do the work.
Haphazard: characterized by lack of order or planning, by irregularity, or by randomness; determined by or dependent on chance; aimless. Much of life is haphazard and this novel explores the meeting of this existentialist truth with the dizzying immensity of the American continent. There is beauty and terror in the possibilities offered by the vastness of the land, in this "frontier" that can still be pursued for one's personal sake. Dissatisfaction meets the open road, hunger for meaning meets the great Alaskan wilderness.
And finally, this novel is at heart a gripping portrait of what it means to raise children. How we really end up being taught by them and how, if we are willing to let them run free, they will reveal their true colors and innate character to us without our help or intrusion.
Let me start by saying I've liked some of Dave Eggers's work. I read AHWOSG the week it was released. I thoroughly enjoyed You Shall Know Our Velocity. The Circle was okay. Zeitoun was excellent. So I'm familiar with his oeuvre.
But a problem that began rearing its head in the Circle has metastasized in Heroes of the Frontier: Eggers CANNOT write believable characters.
I will provide you some examples. Sadly, there are flashes of Eggers's creativity in his prose. For instance, the first time he describes young Paul, he says he has "ice-priest eyes." That's nice. The problem is that Eggers's seems to KNOW it's interesting. So he literally uses the phrase dozens of times again as if he's Homer talking about "rosy-fingered dawn." Paul is a leitmotif, but he's supposed to be a PERSON. Paul is eight. The older brother of sickly and wild Ana. I'm not sure if Eggers has children or if he's ever met one, but he'd like us to believe that Paul is the Dalai Lama. So we get this: "The boy was freakish in his devotion to [Ana]...every night he created some new song for hero lull her to sleep. 'Ana is sleepy now, Ana is sleepy, all the Anas in the world are so sleepy now, they hold hands and drop away...' He was a startling lyricist, really, at four, five, six." Do you see? Eggers realizes what he's saying is unbelievable. So he labels the devotion "freakish" and his lyrical talent "startling" because he KNOWS the reader isn't going to buy what he's selling. I think at times Eggers falls too much in love with his own prose voice and sacrifices characterization for it. The lyrics ARE startlingly poetic. Nice job making them up Mr. Eggers. But you can lay them aside for a poem you're writing. Don't try to force them into the mouth of a child.
Here's a scene where Paul tries to soothe Ana after she's injured in a restaurant bathroom: "Paul always knew. He knew everything--every event, every truth involving Ana. He was her personal coach, her historian, assistant, caretaker, guardian, and best friend...'I'll get the first aid kit,' Paul said...Josie knew her son, only eight, could do this. He could find a waitress, ask for the first-aid kit, bring it back...He was so calm and responsible and composed that Josie considered him, most of the time, her peer." Finally, he gets the kit, finds a bandage, but omnisciently realizes that Ana wants some sort of poultice applied before the bandage. So, "in seconds, he had some kind of lotion in his hands, and was rubbing it between his palms. 'Let's make it warm first,' he said." C'mon! This is particularly unbelievable because Paul's only parenting model is Josie about whom we're given this gem while she lets her children run along a lake in Alaska: "This was Josie's preferred method of parenting: go someplace like this, with grand scale...and watch your children wander and injure themselves but not significantly. Sit and do nothing...Socrates invented the ideal method for the parent who likes to sit and do very little." Right. But here's the problem. The whole reason the family is ON this little voyage is because Josie supposedly can't stand what the childrens’ prim and proper community was doing to them. She's supposedly supremely concerned about the influence of the "bourgeois values" of her childrens' school and friends. You can't have it both ways.
There are moments like this throughout. Like the time Mr. Eggers would like us to forget Holden Caulfield's zen koan from Catcher in the Rye, "where do the ducks go in the winter?" Paul, suddenly alarmed, wakes Josie to ask her "Where do the stray dogs go at night?" I felt sick after I read that. Worse, is Josie's response. What does she say to this whiz-bang ball of precocity? "The stray dogs...all live together in a clubhouse. And this clubhouse was built by Alaskan park rangers because the stray dogs, being pack animals, prefer to live together. They're fed there, she said, three meals a day, by the rangers--omelets for breakfast, sausage for lunch, steak for dinner. Paul smiled shyly. Someone who did not know Paul would assume he knew this was all made up...but that was not the meaning of Paul's smile. No. Paul smiled because something that was wrong in the world had been righted. Paul's smile confirmed the true north of the moral world: How could he have doubted the preeminence of order and justice?"
Sorry. Here's another example. Josie and the kids are invited on a cruise by an elderly stranger to watch a magic show (which starts as soon as they board the ship of course!) Josie is watching the show. People aren't applauding the first magician's tricks. So we get this bit of characterization which sounds like it was done as a creative writing class exercise. Watch again as Eggers realizes mid-breath, as he does with Paul's lyrics, that what he just said is IMPOSSIBLE and tries to adjust for it: "Josie began to feel for this man. He'd been a magician in grade school no doubt. He'd been pretty then, with lashes so long she could see them now, fifty rows back, and as an adolescent, apart from his peers but not concerned about this." Of course, this is supposed to show us more about Josie than the magician. It's not the flight of day dreaming that's problematic. We all "people watch" and make up stories. It's the damn eyelashes. She obviously can't see them from fifty rows back, but Eggers is too much in love with the romance of this characterization to stop and make sure its foundation is plausible.
Following immediately upon this, Eggers is enamored with the joke? that one of the magicians is promised to be from Luxembourg. I'm not exaggerating when I say that over the course of the next five pages, the words Luxembourg and "Luxembourgian" are used at least ten times that I counted. I'm not sure why this is funny. I'm not sure why we're to believe that her two tiny children would find this hilarious and mysterious.
Then there's tiny Ana. She is described endlessly as destructive. She's a whirling dervish, and any time the trio arrives anywhere, Ana sets about trying to break and destroy things. Okay...it's as if Eggers HEARD that sometimes children are wild. Here's the explanation he provides for Ana's motivation: "Ana has never seen a gumball machine before, so how was it that she knew exactly how to harm one? And what had she imagined would be the results of her efforts--broken machine, a floor of glass and gum, punishment inevitable? What was the appeal? The only explanation was that she was receiving instructions from extra-planetary overlords." SERIOUSLY? This is obviously said tongue in cheek. The problem is that Eggers has created a character who doesn't make much sense. So though he's joking, the joke is an attempt to address the real problem of verisimilitude. Why not just dial it back rather than having to reach so embarrassingly?
On and on it goes. Josie roasts and jokes about her ex-husband's "shitting" a dozen times a day for reasons we're not aware of until the end of the book. It's just too easy and flimsy.
If you've read my reviews, you know I'm not in the habit of harshly dissecting another writer's craft. But I needed to warn you. I'm sure Eggers will sell thousands of books and continue with his literary success. I'm just starting to believe that after a few really great early books, he's lost what made them great.
Can't actually say I read the whole book. I really wanted to love this book because I did this! I divorced, took my daughter and ran away to Alaska, by car and tent- with a pod on the roof of my Datsun full of things to start life over again. I suppose I wanted it to be about my adventures, which were very different. I wanted her to find what I did in Alaska and she just had to much baggage which she couldn't seem to get over. Oh well, guess I will just have to write my own book.
This is a strange novel. Josie is a single mom who stumbles across Alaska with her two adorable children escaping her sad life. She's the only dentist I can think of in literature. Josie is a mess -drinks too much, puts her children in danger and is full of self pity and guilt. But I liked her anyway- probably because she has wonderfully lovable, wise children and knows it. Their journey is an improvisation - as is the novel. I liked it!
A woman, utterly lost and searching for purpose, takes her two children on a road trip through the untamed wilderness of Alaska in Dave Eggers' new novel. Eggers' return to prose is an entirely welcome one, after the fascinating dialogue-driven experiment of his last book, YOUR FATHERS, WHERE ARE THEY? AND THE PROPHETS, DO THEY LIVE FOREVER? (which has to be the longest and least-commercial title in existence). I am a bit of an Eggers fanboy (for all its faults, I loved YOUR FATHERS, and I'm a card-carrying member of the cult of McSweeney's), so forgive the glowing enthusiasm, but I can think of very few writers who write with such beauty, such purifying anger and knowing humour. It's something that I found lacking from YOUR FATHERS, and is very much in evidence here. Eggers, at his best, reminds me of a kind of literary Eminem - brash, angry and devastatingly clever. Combine the anger and wit of AHWOSG with the allegory of THE CIRCLE, and you're halfway to this book. The other half is a character study/episodic road trip, as we come to know Josie, our mom on the run, and her two children, Paul and Ana. Josie is in a full-on midlife crisis, having essentially lost everything she has worked toward, and is brimming with rage and disappointment. Her narration drives the book, as she reflects on her failed marriage, the disappointments of modern American society, and her charmingly idiosyncratic ideas for musicals. Paul and Ana are convincingly drawn and utterly endearing, as they struggle to figure out why they aren't in school, driving around the wilderness with seemingly no purpose. The title, "Heroes of the Frontier", plays with irony, as Josie and her family are about as far from pioneers as you could imagine, but they do come to a new understanding of their lives by battling the elements of both modern life and the environment. Like all good road trips, their journey is marked with different encounters with a selection of characters, who act as mirrors for our protagonists. I'm only at four stars because the road trip sub-genre isn't exactly my favourite, but (forgive the pun) your mileage may vary. Eggers' transition from literary wunderkind to man of letters hasn't been the smoothest, but here he firmly establishes himself as one of the leading figures of modern literature: smart, funny, and heartbreakingly relevant. Highly recommended.
I won this book in the Goodreads contest. I really wanted to love this book, the premise was full of drama and heartache and the idea of being able to find yourself even with a hectic and insane life happening at the same time. I started this book, and found I just couldn't connect with the protagonist. I stopped and read two other books in between and then finish this book just today. I felt like Josie had a lot going on, and probably more than most people...but she was all over the place. She couldn't keep a coherent thought, and just grumbled about random crap that wasn't relevant to the story line. I wanted more about Jeremy and his death, I wanted more about Candyland what really happened and how that affected her, and now her children. The things I wanted to be explored and torn apart seemed to be skipped over and I was left with musicals and random acts of kindness from some rather creepy people. I really enjoyed the landscape, I really like the way the novel ended.. but a lot in between just didn't jive for me.
Not the worst guest house shelving I've seen. Pretty good even. I can't say I've ever been tempted by Shantaram but it could probably be worse. There's Mo Yan there which I was this close to picking up. There's a Tom Robbins which I'd not touch with a ten foot pole unless it be about 8 degrees below zero and I needed to warm the room.... The Eggers, which was my choice. Cheryl Strayed? probably not but maybe for some other folks. There's a Jack London novel I've got to admit I'd never heard of. Dr Suess? Sure! A Murakami which again I've no interest in but still got to admit... it could be worse. 1984. Something from Ma Jian which could be tempting. That one next to Yan with the brown spine which I wasn't bothered to investigate.
At any rate. I picked up the Eggers. Earlier this year, for personal reasons, I resolved to read through all of his novels. And since I was Up Here and here was his book about Up Here I resolved to read it Up Here while I was Up Here. And believe me, it wasn't really set Up Here. (I'm making the Realist complaint). More so, it's set in a Lower 48 Fantasy of what it must be like to escape to Up Here. One of the real howlers was how one time trying to evade the cops for whatever hysterical reason Our Hero avoids the mainroad and takes the backroads.... in a rented recreational vehicle. There are no backroads Up Here. There are only mainroads. Unless maybe you've got an ATV of sorts or a boat or a plane but then you're not using the backroads instead of the mainroad because the backroads don't go anywhere. They are what Heidegger called Holzwege. The roads work kind of like they do in San Diego. One time we were in San Diego (well, not really technically San Diego more like Escondido because that is where Stone is) staying downtown and we wanted to go to Lost Abbey but didn't want to get on a fourlane interstate highway but there was no way to go from that one quadrant to the other quadrant without getting on a big mainroad. That's how it is up here. There's one way to go from Here to There if you're in some kind of recreational vehicle. Anyways. Just one howler about how this novel isn't really set in the location it is ostensibly set in. Not that it really matters. Because it's not a novel about Up Here ; it's a novel about Down There and the fantasy of getting a new start Up Here. Which is pretty much the standard American Fantasy.
I love coming Up Here.
Oh, and I made those guesthouse bookshelves just a little better ::
Fundamentally plotless and meandering Heroes of the Frontier details Josie's escape from contemporary American life to Alaska with her two children. The book slowly reveals what she is running from and offers commentary on how we live our lives today. I was bored senseless throughout the book and kind of can't believe Eggers wrote it. I've read every book he's written and this is certainly my least favourite. He seemed to want to say something about contemporary life and forced it into a roadtrip narrative. The book is repetitive and the character of Josie is completely unbelievable. If you want a 'going off grid' road trip story watch Captain Fantastic.
This is the third book about Alaska I've read this summer, and it's definitely the worst. Do you want a seemingly endless litany of how expensive groceries and white wine and gas are, alongside an unlikable protagonist who makes poor life choices and is often an irresponsible parent? Do you like that feeling of being on a road trip when you don't know where you are and you don't know how much longer the ride will last? Check it.
I wish I could give negative stars. This was a piece of shit. The characters were shit. The plot was shit. The writing was shit. I finished this only so that I could properly say I read the whole thing and it NEVER GOT BETTER.
This is a slow burner about a dentist and her two kids who run away to Alaska. Plot-wise it's pretty episodic - going from one place to another, one adventure to another - so it's not particularly gripping in a what-happens-next sense, but it's compelling in its writing and it's characters. I loved these characters! They were all so real and believable! Josie (the mom/dentist) with a traumatic past, strong, brave and flawed, her two children - eight year old Paul, kind, sensible and stoic, and the wonderful Ana who is five and is a force of nature, with wild hair and is cute and destructive and funny in the way kids actually are. I even enjoyed the useless ex Carl - who is bad at sex and spends a lot of time on the toilet and can't hold down a job. These people are going to stay with me for ages, I'm concerned about them! I love them!
I also loved the characters she meets along the way - Alaskan Leonard Cohen, Jim who runs the RV park, the musicians... I like this thing that Eggers does - which I think he does in other books - in that bad stuff happens and then someone offers a little act of kindness and it changes everything. I love books that feel real, raw, authentic and honest - and this is one of those.
I got about a quarter of the way in and decided I didn't care about this story of a woman who flees to the Alaska highway with her two children. By the time I'd read that many pages, I feel like I should have had a sense of who she was and why she was doing what she was doing, and it all seemed so random and arbitrary. I loved What is the What SO much, and I enjoyed Zeitoun and A Heartbreaking Memoir with an Unwieldy Title, as well, and I sort of want to tell Dave Eggers that he does better with stories that start, and maybe continue, with real people, because he's maybe not so good at completely inventing them? --
Not that I quite gave this one a chance to convince me that he does, but life is too short, and wonderful books are too many to continue with a book you feel sort of "meh" about. On to the next one!
FIrst, kudos to Eggers for getting inside the head of a woman. This is a beautiful story about a single mother, who has made mistakes in love and work (like all of us), going on a metaphoric and literal journey with her two young children. The venue is Alaska, the only place in the U.S. that can still be considered a frontier, that we think of as breathtakingly wild, but is, as Eggers describes it, also run down and mundane. The beauty of being inside Josie's head is that she's commonplace enough for us to relate to her but interesting because of her random thoughts. Her kids -- the protective older boy-- and his untamed young sister is another great twist.
What a fantastic book! I can't remember the last time I heard a more true sounding voice coming off the page, so distinct and cohesive and engaging and hilarious. Plus as a stay-at-home parent I have a special degree of admiration for tales of unhinged parents (see especially Maria Semple's most recent two novels), and Josie is one of the most unhinged I've ever encountered.
Dave Eggers’ latest novel, Heroes of the Frontier, was disappointing. It’s well written, of course. Eggers is a supremely talented writer, and he has won a very long list of literary awards, including a Pulitzer for Nonfiction. He has written books that I found to be excellent. I especially enjoyed Zeitoun (nonfiction) and What Is the What (a novel). A Hologram for the King, not so much.
I’m aware that these views are dramatically different from those of many other reviewers. So be it.
No heroes on this frontier
Perhaps Eggers was sarcastic in writing the title to his latest novel. In any case, there are no heroes in this novel. The protagonist is a forty-year-old woman from Ohio named Josie. She has two young children and is clearly unable to act rationally with any consistency. She has fled with the kids to Alaska after losing her dental practice in a malpractice suit. She is also fleeing from her worthless ex-husband and a recurring nightmare about the death of a young man in Afghanistan. She had encouraged him to enlist in the Marines. His parents were livid, and Josie feels responsible for his death.
Arriving in Alaska, Josie rents a barely functional old RV in Anchorage. She and her children head north into a wooded countryside that is often in flames. The kids, a ten-year-old boy and an eight-year-old daughter, could hardly be more different from each other. Ana is a hellion, bound on harming herself and breaking everything around her. Paul is a juvenile saint who dotes on his sister and in unfailingly kind. Much of the time, Paul is the only adult among the three. As they head further and further north into vast reaches of Alaska, they encounter one forest fire after another.
Though the two children figure as principal characters, Eggers tells his story from Josie’s muddled point of view. To give him due credit, Josie is a complex person, and so are the kids. But Josie’s confused thoughts and feelings dominate the novel. She makes one stupid mistake after another. It’s really quite frustrating to observe the consequences.
About the author
Dave Eggers has won an extraordinarily long list of literary awards. Writing since 1993, he has written five works of nonfiction and nine novels, among many other books. Several of his books have been runaway bestsellers. Eggers is also a major figure in the Bay Area literary scene. He co-founded 826 Valencia, a San Francisco nonprofit that tutors children ages 6-18; the organization has since gone national, with chapters in six major cities across the country. Eggers is equally well known in the region as the founder of an independent publisher named McSweeney’s. He is prolific in the extreme and displays talent in writing screenplays, humor for children, and song lyrics as well as the visual arts. This is all in addition to his prodigious output of books. He is just 46 years old.
I love Dave Eggers writing, his humor and observations, his telling details. This one was a little long, though. I like big books (and small books) but there were scenes, esp. in the 2nd half, that just went on and on and I found myself skimming and by the end, what really happened, what really changed with the main character? Not much, actually. So, four stars for the writing. The overall story, three stars. I loved A Hologram for the King, The Parade, and liked a lot The Circle, but this one, story wise, just okay.
Sweet and weird and funny. Meandering and epiphanic. Alaskan-set. Anything else? I loved how unpredictable the book was, in terms of both the "plot," such as it was, and the things that came out of the thoughts and minds of the main character Josie, who's a kind of everywoman fucked-up dentist on the run with her two kids, Ana and Paul. All three characters very fully formed as people. I thought about them a lot even when I wasn't reading, and when I was reading I laughed out loud several times, really unexpectedly. I love when that happens. I'd place this in the same category as another book I read earlier this year, Elizabeth McKenzie's Portable Veblen, which I think I called "comic-empathic" or something like that. I hope I find more in this category.
Updated to 5 stars a few months later (12/4) because... there are no happy endings, just momentary states of grace. I needed this book at this time. I've been thinking about it quite a lot.
Lo maravilloso de las road novel son las reflexiones que uno tiene y la evolución en ese camino. En este caso evitando incendios, evitando vida, buscando vida y su lugar en ella mientras vemos como está la protagonista a punto de naufragar una y otra vez ahogándose en humo o en el fondo de un vaso. Y esos niños que son los grandes protagonistas de la historia, disferentes como las formas de enfrentarse a la vida de los adultos http://entremontonesdelibros.blogspot...
One of the best books I've ever read! A sometimes slightly disturbing look at grieving while parenting and helping children make find themselves. I really enjoyed this story and the gorgeous scenery and descriptions of encounters with different types of people. Can't wait to discuss it at book club to hear other perspectives.
ETA from the final days of 2021 - I still think about this book kind of a lot and might even reread it. the things that stick with me are very unpredictable.
I am so confused by this book, I don't even know where to start. I read the first 30 or 40 pages with a growing sense of unease: the writing was vague and grandiose, pretty and completely hollow. And I struggled with that, because I used to love Dave Eggers, but I've only read two of his books and I was 19 when I did. I was worried that this was just his style, and that I've outgrown it.
This book is told in third person limited, and the narration is deeply DEEPLY affected by the main character's thought patterns. I think this book will be polarizing (although maybe a lot of his books are; I haven't kept up with him very much, honestly) based on who can relate to Josie and who finds her incessant doubt, her endless questioning, to be very very annoying. For the most part I can relate with Josie. I've spent the better part of this year chasing myself through a seemingly endless anxiety vortex, and her constant, pure sense that she is doing everything wrong makes a lot of sense to me. I also tend to agree with Josie (and Eggers, I imagine, although I want to separate the author and his work at least a little bit) about the shallowness of modern life, suburb living, etc, even if I do think that it sometimes comes off a little bit juvenile here.
Anyway, the jist of this book is that after splitting from her deadbeat boyfriend and losing her dental practice, turbo-anxious Josie takes her two kids, rents a motor home (called The Chateau at every available opportunity which is a legitimately great detail) and hightails it to Alaska. She has literally no plan except to meet up with her step-ish-sister, who she actually hates and spends very little time with. She drinks a lot of wine and judges everyone she interacts with and hates herself for all of her decisions. Despite my initial misgivings, Eggers is an excellent writer and despite the character's directionlessness (which translates very literally into a directionless story, in this case) the middle of this book was a joy to read. I flew through it.
My favorite part came some hundred pages before the end, because I was absolutely convinced that Josie was legitimately insane and had kidnapped her children. She mentions, a lot, that it might be kidnapping, but it wasn't an argument that I found specifically compelling - I know lots of children with divorced parents who travelled out of state, and it's all perfectly legal. I assumed all of her handwringing was her being - I don't know - dramatic.
But she keeps breaking into cabins. One cabin owner finds her, and as she and her children literally run away from him and escape in The Chateau, she becomes convined that he is hanging onto the back of the vehicle. So she just keeps driving. At a gas station she's convinced that she's being followed; she crawls under the vehicle to check for a bugging device. When she finds another cabin, outside of an abandoned silver mine, she literally smashes the window with a rock and persuades her children to help her break in. These are the actions of someone who is becoming unhinged, and looking back over the rest of the book, I could see the signs that she'd always been crazy. She mentions wanting to kill Carl; she mentions her recurrent mental images of a bottle smashing against her face; she's always worried about people looking at her with their judging eyes; she hates the "scarf woman" tasked with supporting her children at school events. She vaccilates constantly between a sense of utter defeat and a nearly magical sense of everything being right in the world. She seems to have delusions that her children are otherworldly beings of some sort, trapped in children's bodies and sent to aid her.
So I became convinced that Josie had kidnapped the children, that she was in the wrong, but that it was told so subtly through her point of view that it wasn't clear at first. I was sure that Eggers was leading me down a path that I didn't even know I was on, until I'd sympathized too much with this mad woman and it was too late for us both.
WHAT A DISAPPOINTMENT. What I considered one of Josie's more egregious delusions, that a man had been sent to Alaska to serve her papers, turned out to be very likely true. She is a normal level of dramatic paranoid, the way I imagine any parent has to be - they're in charge of children's lives after all. I have no idea why this is so disappointing to me. Perhaps I'm putting too much of myself into this: I can see enough of my own constant doubts in Josie's thought patterns, and I desperately want someone to tell me that this isn't normal because it's making me fucking miserable. Or maybe I think that a story from the point of view of a woman who kidnaps her own children out of a mistaken belief that she's helping them would be more interesting than this story, where Josie makes a series of disasterous choices with very few consequences.
In some ways, I do respect that Eggers didn't pathologize his main character. There's a lot of value in looking at where we draw the lines of mental illness, if we're pathologizing normal human behavior. What level of paranoia is acceptable and necessary for survival? What level is too much paranoia? I'd argue that Josie shows dangerous levels of anxiety a number of times (SHE THOUGHT SOMEONE WAS BUGGING HER RENTED RV. SHE IS A FORMER DENTIST. THAT IS ABSURD.) but then again, maybe that's what happens when you stay alone in Alaska with no one to talk to. All your minor worries get blown out of proportion - there's so much more space for them up there.
Anyway, after my protracted fantasy that Josie had actually lost her mind, this book took a bizarre left turn and I kind of hated the last fifty or so pages. Part of it was disappointment that my pet theory didn't pan out; part of it was a bizarre and unnecessary jam session where Josie functions as a composer and convinces a bunch of people to play the music in her head (SHE HAS LOST HER MIND, I don't care that the narrative wants to convince me otherwise); part of it was the completely insipid message, hinted at throughout the book and then delivered in the final pages like a brick to the face, that only by being in Nature and overcoming Challenges can people reach their true potential. I don't even fully disagree with that, but it was presented here in SUCH a reductive way. And, again: this is all Josie's point of view. Josie, as a character, doesn't seem to handle nuance very well. So I'm sure it makes sense for her to think like this - the rest of the narrative just didn't challenge that reductive view enough, leaving me to worry that it's at least as much Eggers as it is Josie.
So: the first fifty and the last fifty pages of this were Not Good. I didn't like the writing, the simple messages, really any of it. But the three hundred pages that came between those were great, and, despite everything, gave me a lot to think about. I have no idea how to appropriately rate or recommend this book. Trust your instincts, I guess.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
I first wanted to read this because the author was Dave Eggers and I really enjoyed "the Circle". Then the ratings on goodreads were quite poor, so I decided against it. Then I thought, "Oh, but it's Dave Eggers!" and bought it. I should have stuck with my initial resolve not to read it.
Josie is on the run in Alaska, in a hired RV, with her two children. She has left her disentgrated life as a dentist behind and is trying to escape her grating conscience. Eventually we get more insight into the life she left and why. The book is occasionally quite insightful and funny, but for most part it's just a series of unfortunate events. There doesn't seem to be a climax and I absoutely hated the ending.
According to this book, life screws you over in unexpected ways and then you die. So if you're after a fun adventure with some great insight into life as human - do take a pass on this one.
I like Dave Eggers, but I'm not sure what was going on with this book. I'm far from a helicopter mom, but I read this slightly panicked, at all times. The kids were alright at the end of the book, but that is no thanks to Josie. Besides, there's always the next day. Eggers' prose is still gorgeous, and at no time did I feel like putting the book down. I don't also mind reading about losers per se, but there's something terrible about losers with trusting kids in tow. So no. Not for me.
This book was great! I had zero expectations going in and found myself quickly packed up and dragged along with Josie, Paul and Ana as they crisscrossed Alaska in an ancient Chateau RV that refused to chug faster than 47 mph. The road trip aspect of this book wouldn't have been as fun/kooky/fascinating if it had involved any other family. Each character in Heroes of the Frontieris depicted to perfection. I absolutely adored them all, especially the children - 8-year-old Paul and 5-year-old Ana - who are such complete and wonderful and specific beings. Their actions had me snorting, chuckling, and grinning wickedly as I reread certain passages. I could easily see this as a movie as Eggers crafts such great scenes and then paints them in so vividly with words that they leap to the eye without any blurry edges, for example: the scene in which
I've already started another book and already I feel the after-Dave-Eggers let down effect. His writing simply crackles on the page; his metaphors are smart; you trust being in the palm of his sure hand and he writes his way through a story to a conclusion; whereas with other writers, the writing is simply plainer, less intelligent, and definitely not as amusing.
This is my 4th Dave Eggers book, and while The Circle remains my favorite (and amongst my all-time favorites), Heroes of the Frontier solidly occupies the #2 post.
Per le strade dell'Alaska, una donna su un camper fugge con i due figli. Piacevole da leggere, per alcuni versi ritorna il tema dei bambini in cui manca una base sicura, come nell'Opera Struggente capita al fratellino del narratore. Anche qui episodi surreali si mescolano con avventure on the road, però da Eggers mi aspettavo qualcosa di più.
I've barely read books this fall. Too much work and debilitating existential angst, you know the drill. But this was the right book to come back to, for me, after two months without fiction, because it's about the way things are counterbalanced on each other: the terror and thrill of the wilderness, the dreariness and comfort of the known boundaries of the world, the way everything is a trade-off for something else. And it captures better than most books the anxious knife-edge of parenting, the continuous backdrop of threat that enters your life as soon as you take responsibility for a child--and how it's never just about that knife-edge, is it, it's also about the way children are the ultimate comfort to their parents, the way at critical moments they overflow with trust and forgiveness, so they know how to make you crazy and they know how to make you calm, and wow, that's so intense.
Even loose, sloppy Dave Eggers is still interesting, but as a mom, I had a hard time reading about a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown setting off for Alaska with two young kids and no plan, especially when Eggers emphasizes repeatedly that the younger one is drawn to danger. So I read the whole book waiting for catastrophe to occur. Also felt irritated by a few gratuitously gross bits early on (why, Dave, why?), and bored with some of Dave's patented rants about Modern Life, even though I agree with most of them (can we all agree leaf blowers are the work of the Devil?). So, better than Your Fathers, but nowhere near the power and beauty of Heartbreaking Work or What Is the What.
Dave Eggers presents a grand, heroic look at the threatening frontier of Alaska that is ironically both frozen and constantly fraught with forest fires. Simultaneously, he presents within Josie, a single-mother perpetually on edge of either a nervous breakdown or looking to succumb to rampant alcoholism, the heroic, and all-too human, qualities of running away while running towards. All throughout Heroes Of The Frontier, Josie, along with her two young children, Paul and Ana, completely, and even triumphantly, does both.
Eggers manifests within the novel a philosophy of life, marriage, the tediousness of parenting, and, most importantly, the need to grab hold of that golden ring. Through Josie, we get quirky, and often times hysterical, looks at the insanity of a grade school event schedule, the requisite stupidity of musicals, the glaring monotony of dentistry - perhaps the daily professional grind we all must endure - and the absolute joy of singing, dancing, and communing with live music. Josie embarks on her hero’s quest, destination unknown, hoping to find herself while going off the grid, discovering unabashed kindness and typical American anger. She loves her children, but maybe isn’t the best of parents. She wishes to remove herself from society, but seeks out companionship. She drinks, too much and too easily, but she also laughs, and smiles, and, eventually, does her best to forgive.
Like all great stories, the finale comes sooner than expected. However, the ultimate ending escapes complete fulfillment as earlier steps in the journey might have been more resolute in the closing of the circle. Then again, maybe I did not want this tale to finish. I wanted the fierce mystery of Alaska to unwrap and unveil as Josie continues her eternal quest for resolution and her well-deserved happy ending, as do we all; all of us heroes in this unending frontier.