Heroes of the Frontierby Dave Eggers
Longlisted for an Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction
A captivating, often/b>
“A picaresque adventure and spiritual coming-of-age tale — On the Road crossed with Henderson the Rain King… Deeply affecting.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
Longlisted for an Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction
A captivating, often hilarious novel of family and wilderness from the bestselling author of The Circle, this is a powerful examination of our contemporary life and a rousing story of adventure.
Josie and her children’s father have split up, she’s been sued by a former patient and lost her dental practice, and she’s grieving the death of a young man senselessly killed. When her ex asks to take the children to meet his new fiancée’s family, Josie makes a run for it, figuring Alaska is about as far as she can get without a passport. Josie and her kids, Paul and Ana, rent a rattling old RV named the Chateau, and at first their trip feels like a vacation: They see bears and bison, they eat hot dogs cooked on a bonfire, and they spend nights parked along icy cold rivers in dark forests. But as they drive, pushed north by the ubiquitous wildfires, Josie is chased by enemies both real and imagined, past mistakes pursuing her tiny family, even to the very edge of civilization.
A tremendous new novel from the best-selling author of The Circle, Heroes of the Frontier is the darkly comic story of a mother and her two young children on a journey through an Alaskan wilderness plagued by wildfires and a uniquely American madness.
The frontier in Eggers’s (The Circle) appealing and affecting new novel is Alaska, but also, arguably, the adventures of its heroine, Josie. The core of the novel is relatable to anyone who has thought about suddenly starting over in an unknown place—which is to say, just about everyone. Thirty-something Josie has abruptly abandoned her failing dental practice and conventional life in Ohio, in search of something she can’t exactly define but knows that she needs. The move is a little less outrageous than it first appears, because Josie’s older sister, Sam, lives there, in a town called Homer. On the other hand, Josie has two young children, the fussy Ana and the old-beyond-his-years Paul. Eggers doesn’t tell the reader much about Josie’s Ohio life right away, except that she’s broken up with the children’s father, Carl, and has not yet told the children. In this way, the reader remains a bit unmoored throughout, which simulates Josie’s state of mind: she’s making it up as she goes along. For example, not having made smart financial calculations, she finds herself spending like a drunken sailor and constantly recalibrating her plan to explain this new situation to the children. Eggers’s shaggy plot may not be to all tastes, but his writing is fresh and full of empathy, his observations on modern society apt and insightful. 150,000-copy announced first printing. (July)
A troubled dentist pulls up stakes and moves herself and her two children to Alaska.Josie, like the heroes of prior Eggers novels A Hologram for the King (2012) and The Circle (2013), is an archetypal figure, representative of how modern living corrodes our psyches. Josie has split from the slacker father of her two children, Ana and Paul; she's tormented by having encouraged a patient to sign up for the Marines who is then killed in action; and a malpractice suit effectively annihilates her practice. The only thing to be done, apparently, is to buy an RV and head from Ohio to southern Alaska, where her "stepsister who was not quite a stepsister" lives. Every romantic notion about heading for the hills is wrecked in short order: the RV is slow and hard to manage, let alone park; every beautiful vista abuts a tourist trap where staples are wildly overpriced; and Josie's stepsister has a cultic relationship with the locals that forbids sticking around. (And that "not a quite a stepsister" situation, once it's explained, is understandably awkward.) Between the novel's title, its episodic structure, and the scenes of rain and wildfire that shape the book's second half, it's clear Eggers means to craft a contemporary epic in which the bad guy is our lack of connection with nature. (Josie's stepsister lives in Homer.) Josie herself is an intermittently poignant and affecting figure, prone to comic musings about writing a musical about her hapless experiences or dourly fixating on a daymare of a bottle breaking across her face. But those details can't compensate for the overall baggy and rambling nature of the story, which doesn't meaningfully develop Josie's character and mainly reduces her children into plot complications. "We are not civilized people," Josie muses. But this novel is an unpersuasive glimpse into our nascent ferality. An ungainly, overlong merger of an adventure tale and social critique.
—Carolyn Kellogg, The Los Angeles Times
“This is a novel about America, about what forces people to leave ‘the lower 48’ to seek refuge in a forbidding, unpeopled landscape… Eggers renders it with such passion and good humour, and describes the ‘land of mountains and light’ in such stirring, lustrous prose… There is a feeling of utopianism about the novel, a sense that, in Alaska, some original American dream slumbers just beneath the ice… Heroes of the Frontier acts on the reader like a breath of Alaskan air, cleansing the spirit and lifting the heart.”
—Alex Preston, The Guardian (U.K)
“The phenomenally productive Eggers has talent to spare… In his books he has revealed a remarkable aptitude for inhabiting otherness and illuminating the world’s darker corners… Heroes of the Frontier again offers complex, believable characters… Entertains, often spectacularly.”
—Barbara Kingsolver, The New York Times Book Review
“Captivating…. Part adventure, part social critique, the book is occasionally harrowing and often very funny… As Eggers takes Josie through wildfires, avalanches, lightning strikes and narrow escapes from the long arm of the law, he suggests there's something a little heroic in all of us.” —Georgia Rowe, San Jose Mercury News
“Eggers, writing with exuberant imagination, incandescent precision, and breathless propulsion, casts divining light on human folly and generosity and the glories and terror of nature. This uproarious quest, this breathless journey from lost to found, this delirious American road-trip saga, is fueled by uncanny insight, revolutionary humor, and profound pleasure in the absurd and the sublime.”
—Donna Seaman, Booklist (Starred Review)
From the Hardcover edition.
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
- Publication date:
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- Product dimensions:
- 6.10(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.40(d)
Read an Excerpt
There is proud happiness, happiness born of doing good work in the light of day, years of worthwhile labor, and afterward being tired, and content, and surrounded by family and friends, bathed in satisfaction and ready for a deserved rest—sleep or death, it would not matter.
Then there is the happiness of one’s personal slum. The happiness of being alone, and tipsy on red wine, in the passenger seat of an ancient recreational vehicle parked somewhere in Alaska’s deep south, staring into a scribble of black trees, afraid to go to sleep for fear that at any moment someone will get past the toy lock on the RV door and murder you and your two small children sleeping above.
Josie squinted into the low light of a long summer evening at a rest stop in southern Alaska. She was happy this night, with her pinot, in this RV in the dark, surrounded by unknown woods, and became less afraid with every new sip from her yellow plastic cup. She was content, though she knew this was a fleeting and artificial contentment, she knew this was all wrong—she should not be in Alaska, not like this. She had been a dentist and was no father of her children, an invertebrate, a loose-boweled man named Carl, a man who had told Josie marriage-by-documentation was a sham, the paper superfluous and reductive, had, eighteen months after he’d moved out, found a different woman to marry him. He’d met and now was, improbably, impossibly, marrying some other person, a person from Florida. It was happening in September, and Josie was fully justified in leaving, in disappearing until it was all over. Carl had no idea she had taken the children out of Ohio. Almost out of North America. And he could not know. And what could better grant her invisibility than this, a rolling home, no fixed address, a white RV in a state with a million other wayward travelers, all of them in white RVs? No one could ever find her. She’d contemplated leaving the country altogether, but Ana didn’t have a passport and Carl was needed to get one, so that option was out. Alaska was at once the same country but another country, was almost Russia, was almost oblivion, and if Josie left her phone and used only cash—she’d brought three thousand dollars in the kind of velvet bag meant to hold gold coins or magic beans—she was untraceable, untrackable. And she’d been a Girl Scout. She could tie a knot, gut a fish, start a fire. Alaska did not daunt her.
She and the kids had landed in Anchorage earlier that day, a grey day without promise or beauty, but the moment she’d stepped off the plane she found herself inspired. “Okay guys!” she’d said to her exhausted, hungry children. They had never expressed any interest in Alaska, and now here they were. “Here we are!” she’d said, and she’d done a celebratory little march. Neither child smiled.
Meet the Author
DAVE EGGERS is the author of ten books, including the national best sellers The Circle and A Hologram for the King, which was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award. He is the founder of McSweeney's, an independent publishing company based in San Francisco. Eggers is the cofounder of 826 National, a network of eight tutoring centers around the country, and ScholarMatch, a nonprofit organization designed to connect students with resources, schools, and donors to make college possible. He lives in Northern California with his family.
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