“While the days unfold, one after the other, and the numbers all move in one direction, our lives are not linear, Harriet. We are the sum of moments and reflections, actions and decisions, triumphs, failures, and yearnings, all of it held together, inexplicably, miraculously, really, by memory and association. Yes, Harriet, our lives are more sinew than bone.”
In his new novel, This is Your Life, Harriet Chance, Jonathan Evison’s “this is your life” framework holds together a collection of Harriet’s memories surfacing scattershot from the distant to the not so distant past. It’s the framework that I liked the most about this book, since it reflects how memories occur to us–in a day we may recall being six or sixty or sixteen. We are all pieced together from our past.
Sadly, Harriet’s life is full of regret, and as she embarks on an Alaskan cruise, a surprise trip arranged by her recently deceased husband, she is haunted by Bernard’s ghost and by her memories. Accompanied by her daughter who is in recovery again, Harriet comes to understand the importance of forgiveness and that the hardest person to forgive often is one’s self. We have a glimpse of Harriet, with her newly realized insight, enjoying a day of perfect, small moments. In essence this novel is at turns tragic, hopeful, and satisfying–all the ingredients of a long life.
For other satisfying books from female protagonists who have lived long and have much to share, read:
The New Neighbor by Leah Stewart
Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper
Florence Gordon by Brian Morton
I’ll Drink to That: a Life in Style with a Twist by Betty Halbreich
Emily Alone by Stewart O’Nan