‘This is Your Life, Harriet Chance’ by Jonathan Evison – Light and Devastating

‘This is Your Life, Harriet Chance’ by Jonathan Evison   (2015) – 294 pages


25810633The world and its events are heavy enough.  Sometimes the best way to approach it is with lightness.  It takes a certain kind of genius to compose lines like:

“Tide, Wisk, Cheer, you’ve tried them all – yes, even All.”

This novel is constructed like the old TV show ‘This is Your Life’ where the host walks through the entire life of the main guest through a series of short vignettes recalling various scenes that were significant to this person.  Of course on the television show, the scenes recalled were all happy uplifting events that made the guests feel good about their lives.  However a novel does not face this feel-good restriction.  There are disturbing events recalled in ‘This is Your Life, Harriet Chance’ that you would never expect to find in a light humorous novel or TV show.

As it turns out this is an excellent way to tell the story of a person’s life, because that is how our minds work all day (and sometimes all night) long.  We flash back to the various incidents that have occurred throughout our lives, the good and the bad, in seemingly random fashion, but they all somehow fit together to define who we are now.

Harriet Chance is 78 years old.  Her husband of many years died almost a year ago, after a long disastrous spell of Alzheimer’s disease.  She has two children, a son and daughter.  Now Harriet is planning to go on an Alaskan cruise for two which her deceased husband had signed up for a long time ago.  She wants to take along her best woman friend from the neighborhood.  So far, so normal.

Then we flash back to scenes that go all the way back to Harriet’s early childhood to scenes when she was a young professional single woman up to scenes from her married and family life.

evisonJonathan_0By the end of the novel we get the full picture of Harriet Chance, and it is a mostly sad picture for such a seemingly light humorous novel. I admire the dexterity of Jonathan Evison’s writing style that he can switch from light and breezy to heartbreaking in just a few sentences.  His novel seems a lot more accurate than many other novels which attempt to be more serious and profound. This is a poignant story of a woman reconciling the various parts of her often awful life, which in Harriet’s case is a near impossible thing to do.

Can a novel be both light and devastating?  ‘This is Your Life, Harriet Chance’ is.


Grade:   A-



2 responses to this post.

  1. Sounds like an interesting read. Light and devastating are hard to pull of successfully in the same book!



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