‘Heroes of the Frontier’ by Dave Eggers (2016) – 385 pages
Here is an appealing novel about a woman and her two kids traveling around Alaska. One trend I have recently noticed is that a few male fiction writers including Graham Swift, Colson Whitehead, Yuri Herrera, Rupert Thomson, and here Dave Eggers will create a female main character or narrator for their novels. This is a healthy trend since it stretches the imagination of the male writer to see things in a different view from his usual own. But ultimately it all depends on the execution…
In ‘Heroes of the Frontier’, things have fallen apart for mother Josie in her late thirties back in Ohio, so she took her two kids, eight year-old Paul and five year-old Ana, up to Alaska without telling anyone.
What better way to move about in the great spaces of Alaska than in a used RV called ‘The Chateau’? So ‘Heroes of the Frontier’ is essentially a road trip with no destination, just traveling around this monster state. Josie and her kids encounter scenic mountains and breathtaking views, eccentric people in RV parks, forest rangers, ferocious and not-so-ferocious animals, wild fires, thunderstorms, and everywhere exorbitant prices for campgrounds, groceries, and restaurants.
If you are looking for a tightly plotted adventure story, ‘Heroes of the Frontier’ is not for you. This story meanders from RV park to RV park. We get Josie’s backstory, why she had to leave Ohio. There’s an insufferable ex- who is now marrying someone else and a lawsuit that destroyed her practice as a dentist.
Although not much happens in real time in this story, the writing here is likeable and engaging and held my interest throughout. I practically coined the term “pleasantly uneventful”, but this novel takes it to extremes I never even considered. Much of the story is about mother Josie dealing with her two kids, and the kids emerge as major characters in the story. Only the ever present dangers of uncontrollable forest fires and spine-cracking thunder and lightning storms give the story any urgency.
But the story has its diversions along the way. Consider the following bit about leaf blowers to which I concur:
“Oh no. A leaf blower. The easiest way to witness the stupidity and misplaced hopes of all humanity is to watch, for twenty minutes, a human using a leaf blower. With this machine, the man was saying, I will murder all quiet. I will destroy the aural plane. And I will do so with a machine that performs a task far less efficiently than I could with a rake.”
So far I have read four Dave Eggers novels. I considered ‘A Hologram for the King’ and ‘The Circle’ spectacularly good, but ‘Your Fathers, Where Are They…’ was a disappointment. I see ‘Heroes of the Frontier’ a solid comeback of sorts, perhaps not quite to the level of the first two novels, but a well-written engaging read. It does capture Alaska except for some of its crazier people, and really there is nothing more heroic than being a good mother.
I will eagerly look forward to reading my next Dave Eggers novel whether it has a male or female main character.