4 years ago

No heroes on this frontier

heroesDave Eggers’ latest novel, Heroes of the Frontier, was disappointing. It’s well written, of course. Eggers is a supremely talented writer, and he has won a very long list of literary awards, including a Pulitzer for Nonfiction. He has written books that I found to be excellent. I especially enjoyed Zeitoun (nonfiction) and What Is the What (a novel). A Hologram for the King, not so much.


Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers (2016) 450 pages

@@@ (3 out of 5)


I’m aware that these views are dramatically different from those of many other reviewers. So be it.

No heroes on this frontier

Perhaps Eggers was sarcastic in writing the title of his latest novel. In any case, there are no heroes in this novel. The protagonist is a forty-year-old woman from Ohio named Josie. She has two young children and is clearly unable to act rationally with any consistency. She has fled with the kids to Alaska after losing her dental practice in a malpractice suit. She is also fleeing from her worthless ex-husband and a recurring nightmare about the death of a young man in Afghanistan. She had encouraged him to enlist in the Marines. His parents were livid, and Josie feels responsible for his death.

Arriving in Alaska, Josie rents a barely functional old RV in Anchorage. She and her children head north into a wooded countryside that is often in flames. The kids, a ten-year-old boy and an eight-year-old daughter, could hardly be more different from each other. Ana is a hellion, bound on harming herself and breaking everything around her. Paul is a juvenile saint who dotes on his sister and in unfailingly kind. Much of the time, Paul is the only adult among the three. As they head further and further north into vast reaches of Alaska, they encounter one forest fire after another.

Though the two children figure as principal characters, Eggers tells his story from Josie’s muddled point of view. To give him due credit, Josie is a complex person, and so are the kids. But Josie’s confused thoughts and feelings dominate the novel. She makes one stupid mistake after another. It’s really quite frustrating to observe the consequences.

About the author

Dave Eggers has won an extraordinarily long list of literary awards. Writing since 1993, he has written five works of nonfiction and nine novels, among many other books. Several of his books have been runaway bestsellers. Eggers is also a major figure in the Bay Area literary scene. He co-founded 826 Valencia, a San Francisco nonprofit that tutors children ages 6-18; the organization has since gone national, with chapters in six major cities across the country. Eggers is equally well known in the region as the founder of an independent publisher named McSweeney’s. He is prolific in the extreme and displays talent in writing screenplays, humor for children, and song lyrics as well as the visual arts. This is all in addition to his prodigious output of books. He is just 46 years old.

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