This is Your Life, Harriet Chance
Jonathan Evison
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Buy *This is Your Life, Harriet Chance* by Jonathan Evisononline

This is Your Life, Harriet Chance
Jonathan Evison
Algonquin Books
304 pages
September 2015
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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I had just read (and loved), Evison's book The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving when I received his latest novel, This is Your Life, Harriet Chance, to review. I was completely surprised by the innovative way he tells the story of Harriet Chance. Chapters hop back and forth across decades. Narrators change, elaborating on long-kept secrets.

Harriet isn't an inherently likable character like Benjamin Benjamin in Revised Fundamentals. But she does become an understandable one: married to an uncommunicative husband, dealing with a daughter whose life spiraled out of control a long time ago, struggling to understand a somewhat one-sided friendship, living with an abusive secret that tinges all facets of her life. "Yes, something starts growing, something that will still be with you forty-nine years later, Harriet, something you'll never be able to outrun: contempt. Mostly for yourself but, to a lesser degree, contempt for the world." Evison does an outstanding job positioning Harriet's problems and choices in the reality of her past decades.

A quick read, This is Your Life, Harriet Chance handles weighty matters in a light manner. Still, readers are forced to recall that most elderly people have serious backstories in spite of relatively uneventful daily lives. In Harriet's case, she is recovering from taking care of her dementia-ridden husband, accepting his somewhat sudden death, meeting the challenges of a surprise Alaskan cruise, and also dealing with the shock that her quiet husband harbored an emotional bombshell.

After an hour of stewing in her anger, pacing the length of her cabin, trampling the letter with each pass, and glowering...she visualizes all the things she'd like to do and say to Bernard and Mildred, Harriet should be exhausted. Her spine should be aching, her feet should be throbbing. But instead her heart is beating a furious war cry... Maybe food is the answer, maybe she ought to feed this ravenous temper.
The omniscient narrator with the game show flair, hints at what Harriet has experienced and what she should do now. The chapters that seem to come from a Turner Classic Movie add an interesting dimension to Bernard--and reveal more about Harriet than is expected. Harriet herself supplies some of the most incriminating memories of her less-than-stellar past. Evison definitely earns kudos for successfully writing in an authentic female voice for parts of this, his fourth novel.

Once again this talented author takes a situation rife with sadness, and twists it into something else entirely by the end of the book. Although his characters remain filled with misgivings, they come to terms with some of their mistakes and seem ready to move forward. Providing all of us with a sort of roadmap, rife with realistic detours. "This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!" follows a cruise journey to mirror the crisis of conscience the main character faces.

It's not every day that there's order in the universe, Harriet Chance, so enjoy this: Breathe deeply of that salty air, really let it fill your lungs. Feel that coho melt on your tongue, feel it slide down your throat like butter. Sink into that easy conversation... Wince with pain and pleasure. Laugh, sigh, and massage your aching joints under the table. And while you're at it, take a good long look at your smiling daughter across the table, the lines of her face moving in new directions, one hour, one day at a time. Recognize and give thanks for the crisp edges and heightened sensations of these moments, for they are precious.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Leslie Nichols Raith, 2016

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