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Heroes of the Frontier

by Dave Eggers

Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers

Delightfully written book from Dave Eggers, in which we follow Josie, a former dentist, who is having a bit of a mid-life crisis and has abandoned her job and taken her two children to Alaska. Most of the time, these are her companions: Paul, a calm eight years old, and Ana, who has an extraordinary knack for getting into danger, but who has somehow survived her first wild five years. She hires a shakey old RV, and sets of to parts unknown without a plan – or even a plan for a plan, as far as we can tell.

For me, half of the delight is her children and their straightforward reactions and interactions. Paul absolutely dotes on his little sister and is careful and detailed, while she is the epitome of a wild child. They are beautifully drawn characters, and the way they meet the world and whatever it – or their mother – throws at them is charmingly done.

The other half of the magic is Josie herself. Her inner life is richly portrayed, with my favourite scenes being those in which she mentally sketches out musicals based around what she’d experiencing:

“Her head was full of ideas, elaborations and reversals. The show about Grenada? Would that be the first thing to explore? Or Disappointed: The Musical? Or something encompassing all of Alaska. Alaska! No, without the exclamation point, because this was not a demonstrative place, no, it was a place of tension, of uncertainty, a state on fire. Alaska with a colon. Alaska:. Yes.”

It’s a book about their haphazard road trip, with forest fires and law suits and lightning storms, but also moments of tranquility and beauty, long afternoons watching her children playing with other kids in a little brook or on some old playground, and hidden side adventures away from everyone. The plot may or may not resolve, but as with our own lives, in the end it’s about the journey, not the destination.

A strong four stars.