Books I Love

Heroes of the Frontier October 06 2016, 0 Comments

"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.

They are the true heroes of the frontier.