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This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!: A Novel Paperback – May 31, 2016
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“Thank heaven for surprises, especially of the Jonathan Evison variety . . . Sure to become a book club favourite this fall, This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! is a pleasurable mix of the crazy escapades, changing relationships and thoughtful reflections that make up a life. It shows us that whatever age we are, the delightful surprises never stop, but neither do the growing pains. It reminds us too that when it comes to forgiveness, often the hardest person to forgive is ourselves.”—Toronto Star
“Evison writes with his typical unflinching honesty about a life that is not what it seems . . . poignant reflections on aging, parenting, friendship and marriage constantly surprise with their quiet truthfulness.” —The Globe and Mail
“In every situation, poor Harriet draws the short straw. But This is Your Life, Harriet Chance! is anything but a drag: Evison . . . makes Harriet’s sad story sing . . . [Evison’s] over-the-top commentary conveys the pathos of Harriet’s misadventures with just the right blend of snark and sympathy, and it’s tremendously fun to read . . . Harriet’s character emerges in fascinating detail, as if from a chrysalis . . . She’s much more interesting than we thought. So, for that matter, is Evison’s novel . . .” —Commentary
“Evison is a talented writer that is capable of making the reader think beyond the book with his candid character conversations and dialogues and his thought-provoking subject matter. Through humor and seriousness, Evison will almost force the reader to consume this book in one sitting!”—Portland Book Review
“Luckily for readers, there is This is Your Life, Harriet Chance, by Jonathan Evison, to provide a contemplative, funny and sensitive take on the polychromatic journey of life . . . a patchwork of moments, both large and small, that are, in turns, amusing, heartbreaking and recognizable in their universality . . . At its core, Evison’s book is an examination of human identity and what that means as a person grows older and begins to entwine and interact with other people . . . [Harriet is faced] with rediscovering her own individuality and with moving beyond the dysfunctional relationship she has had with her adult daughter. Written with both humor and pathos, This is Your Life, Harriet Chance probes the juncture where those two intersect, where the beautiful melancholy of life is the sweetest.” —Summit Daily (Vail, Colorado)
“This novel works from every angle. . . I laughed, giggled, cried and held Harriet close as the pages of her life opened to me. Then I started over again not ready to let her go. I not only recommend you read this one, I urge you to read it. The life you come to understand may well be your own.” —Roanoke Times
From the Back Cover
This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! is as sweet as it is inventive, profound as it is hilarious, unflinching as it is bighearted. Step right up, don’t be shy! Take the hand of Evison’s delightfully menacing master of ceremonies and let him lead you into the kaleidoscopic journey of your life.” —Maria Semple, author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette
“A generous and wise tale, told with Evison’s trademark verve and charisma, This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! is a deeply felt and deeply comforting novel.” —Patrick deWitt, author of The Sisters Brothers
“This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! has all the wonderful snap and sizzle we’ve come to expect from Jonathan Evison’s work, and as much heart as any novel I’ve read in recent years. Evison packs an entire life--many lives--into this fine book, and does so with the empathy and insight of a writer at the top of his game.” —Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
“Insightful, richly entertaining . . . Evison writes humanely and with good humor of his characters, who, like the rest of us, muddle through, too often without giving ourselves much of a break. A lovely, forgiving character study that’s a pleasure to read.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
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As much as I liked his last, "Revised Fundamentals", "Harriet Chance" is Evison's best novel to date. (I hate how easy he makes it all seem.) This is one of those books people will tell friends they stayed up late to finish. A lesser novelist would have made this all about Harriet. But by the end (no spoilers here) I was as moved by Harriet's daughter, Caroline. Maybe moreso. Caroline desperately wants to connect with her mother and at the same time (like many of us) wonders how much she might be just like her.
Crack open your favorite brew or pour a glass of your favorite wine and enjoy the read. It's rare when a book makes you want to celebrate every screwed up character in it.
I like the writing, which comes across as light and a bit flippant, while describing the ups and downs (lots of downs) of the life of Harriet Chance. Harriet is an elderly woman, recently widowed from a man it sounds like she should have divorced many years earlier. She is shocked to find her husband had purchased (or won? I forget – I’m not as old as Harriet, but I still have senior moments) an Alaskan cruise before his death. This is very unlike him. Still, she plans on going with her long-time best friend, who changes her mind at the last minute. We eventually learn the truth about that, as well.
The book goes back and forth from the present time to various times/places in Harriet’s past, reminiscent of the old (really old) TV show, This Is Your Life. We see who Harriet was and what she wanted to be and how life got in the way. It got me completely wrapped up in her life and her welfare, and I cared very deeply about her.
Evison's time changes are no distraction. The paragraphs are usually little more than 30 pages long. They are masterfully arranged to poignantly share Harriet's story. As readers, we've seen the "I could have been more than a housewife" theme before, but not articulated as Evison does it. Harriet makes lots of choices, but Evison forces us to suspend judgment. Surprises strengthen the novel from its first pages all the way through to the end. How could we judge with so many choices?
The careful word choices, short sentences, and short paragraphs had me breezing through the 293 page book in one sitting.
This is not an uplifting novel, but it's a good one. The questions are universal. At age 25, the omniscient narrator asks Harriet: "Have you finally stopped tracking the progress of that other incarnation of yourself, the one who didn't bow to the expectations of society, the one who didn't opt for the easy way out, the one who wasn't going to have children until she was thirty? Or have you simply lowered your standards?" At 36, the narrator asks: "At what point did you lose control of your life, Harriet? When did you start hating yourself?" The narrator seems to mock her. It becomes unclear that Harriet is responsible for the answers to those questions. That's what makes this such a good read
Honestly, that's the highest praise I can bestow upon any novel.
Thank you, sir.
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