Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Review: "Heroes of the Frontier" by Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers is a national treasure, and his new novel, Heroes of the Frontier, is more than proof of that. For a long while, I thought he represented literary pomposity: self-absorbed, shallow stories that acted as little more than self-made advertisements for one’s own genius. But his recent spate of novels, which have come out in rather rapid succession, did more than simply disprove this misinformed notion, but utterly destroy it. Starting with A Hologram for a King, which I loved, The Circle, which I have not yet read but do own, Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever, an experiment that won’t touch most people as it did me, and finally, this one, arguably his best and most definitely the most fun novel he has produced so far, Eggers proves himself not simply a versatile writer, one who fits comfortably in different settings, moods and genres, but a true student of literature whose goal is to sweep the reader away on the wings of whatever tall tale he is spinning, and doing so while engaging both the readers head and heart. This novel sort of acts as a deeply meditative version of National Lampoon’s Vacation: it has many pitfalls, some amusing, and others downright hilarious (such as the scene where the heater to the RV’s sewage tank is accidently turned on, but its heart is pure and open as it follows a fractured family of three across America’s largest state as they are both running from and towards a fleeting sense of home. The main character, Josie, is one of the best female characters I have come across this year. At the beginning of the book, she is a hollowed out shell of a person whose well-kept Midwestern equilibrium is thrown off balance after her cowardly husband leaves her and a punitive lawsuit against her dental practice forces her to give it up. She finds herself in Alaska to visit her stepsister Sam, with her two children in tow: her oldest, the inquisitive Paul, and Ana, whose premature birth Josie believes has turned her into radiant spitfire. With her ever-shrinking savings in velvet bag, and a crappy RV, ironically called the Chateau, they make their way across Alaska, finding themselves in many odd and beguiling adventures. They find themselves swept away by a menacing magician; Josie finds romance briefly with a much older man and in the most suspenseful scene in the book, they are trailed by a man whose cabin they accidently broke into. All the while they are outrunning an increasingly dangerous forest fire, and Josie recalls what brought her here: her tumultuous childhood, her guilt over the death of a friend, and the appalling cowardice of her loose bowl/bladder’d husband. It is an entertaining, thought-provoking romp that leads to a conclusion that is beautiful, ambiguous, but all together perfect. With each book, Eggers offers up a new experience with the same trademark empathy that make him one of today’s most important and special writers. 

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