harriet chance book coverReviewed by Jax Kepple

A cruise to Alaska bookends Jonathan Evison’s excellent This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! Bouncing around to different periods in Harriet’s life, a story slowly unfolds of a woman who constantly took the backseat and let life happen to her, even as past lies and deceits come to light, and who tries to learn to forgive and begin to heal before her life ends.

Seventy-nine-year-old Harriet Chance, freshly widowed, discovers that her late husband, Bernard, bid on the cruise three years ago, and it is about to expire. She decides to go with her best friend Mildred, much to the dismay of her children Skip and Caroline, who think she’s too old and infirm to make the trip. Mildred backs out at the last minute, and Caroline decides to join her, which leads to fifty years of skeletons coming out of the closet. Confrontations occur as Caroline and Harriet grapple with their complicated past against a backdrop of the Alaskan coast.

Woven through the main story line of Harriet going on the cruise are flashbacks to her life, where it is revealed that Bernard was an absentee father and husband. Harriet is unable to pursue her desire to work as a paralegal due to the kids, and she always feels resentful of that. She had a very privileged upbringing, and her father ran his own legal firm. One of his colleagues, Charlie, takes a special interest in Harriet, and he is able to help her get back into the workforce. Charlie is a thread that weaves its way through Harriet’s life, resulting in a shocking revelation that explains why Harriet is the way she is.

Evison jumps around in Harriet’s life, narrating each event like she is on a game show. This leads to a little bit of new information being revealed with each time jump, and by the end, when it all comes together, it’s phenomenal. Evison is able to show that life is so complex, and that Harriet made passive choices, but it’s not too late to attempt to fix them.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Jax is in an accountant at a hedge fund. She resides in NYC with her husband.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Algonquin Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.