Summary and book reviews of This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evison

This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!

by Jonathan Evison

This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evison X
This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evison
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2015, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2016, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

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Book Summary

Part dysfunctional love story, part poignant exploration of the mother/daughter relationship, Jonathan Evison has crafted a bighearted novel with an endearing heroine at its center.

With her husband Bernard two years in the grave, seventy-nine-year-old Harriet Chance sets sail on an ill-conceived Alaskan cruise only to discover that she's been living the past sixty years of her life under entirely false pretenses. There, amid the buffets and lounge singers, between the imagined appearance of her late husband and the very real arrival of her estranged daughter, Harriet is forced to take a long look back, confronting the truth about pivotal events that changed the course of her life.

Jonathan Evison has crafted a bighearted novel with an endearing heroine at its center. Through Harriet, he paints a bittersweet portrait of a postmodern everywoman with great warmth, humanity, and humor. Part dysfunctional love story, part poignant exploration of the mother/daughter relationship, nothing is what it seems in this tale of acceptance, reexamination, forgiveness, and, ultimately, healing. It is sure to appeal to admirers of Evison's previous work, as well as fans of such writers as Meg Wolitzer, Junot Díaz, and Karen Joy Fowler.

November 4, 1936
(Harriet at Zero)

Here you come, Harriet Nathan, tiny face pinched, eyes squinting fiercely against the glare of surgical lamps, at a newly renovated Swedish hospital high on Seattle's First Hill. It's an unseasonably chilly Wednesday in autumn, and the papers are calling for snow. Roosevelt by a landslide! they proclaim. Workers grumbling in Flint, Michigan! In Spain, a civil war rages.

Meanwhile, out in the corridor, your father paces the floor, shirtsleeves rolled to the elbow. Clutching an unlit Cuban cigar, he checks his wrist-watch. He's got a three-o'clock downtown.

By the end of the week, Harriet, you'll leave the hospital wrapped in a goose-down swaddler knit by your ailing grandmother. Your father will miss his three-o'clock today. But let's not get ahead of ourselves here. They don't call it labor for nothing. Let's not forget the grit and determination of your mother. All that panting and pushing, all that ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Harriet Chance is an out-of-the-ordinary but believable protagonist who, like all of us, has a mixture of victories and disappointments behind her. This is a charming novel about learning how to reckon with the past. Parts of the past will always be inescapable, but how it will influence the present and future is still a choice. The sweeping view of the whole of Harriet's life gives us room to ponder how memories and turning points have made us who we are.   (Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Full Review (652 words).

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Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Evison writes humanely and with good humor of his characters, who, like the rest of us, muddle through, too often without giving ourselves much of a break. A lovely, forgiving character study that's a pleasure to read.

Author Blurb Maria Semple, author of Where'd You Go, Bernadette
Once again, Jonathan Evison dazzles ... This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! is as sweet as it is inventive, profound as it is hilarious, unflinching as it is bighearted.

Author Blurb Jami Attenberg, author of The Middlesteins
Evison is a ridiculously gifted storyteller... [This is] an irresistible, inventive novel full of important ideas about how we live our lives as parents, children, partners, and human beings.

Author Blurb Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Has all the wonderful snap and sizzle we've come to expect from Jonathan Evison's work, and as much heart as any novel I've read in recent years. [He] packs an entire life--many lives--into this fine book, and does so with the empathy and insight of a writer at the top of his game.

Reader Reviews

Susan

Harriet Chance's life a disappointment
At age 78 Harriet Chance reflects on her dismal marriage, her poor relationship with her daughter, and the decisions she made along the way that denied her prospects of a more satisfying life outcome. Not a very insightful tale. The writing isn't ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

This Is Your Life, a Television Phenomenon

Along with Queen for a Day and Candid Camera, This Is Your Life was one of the first reality television shows. It aired in the United States from 1952 to 1961, and in the United Kingdom from 1955 until 2003. At least nine other countries adopted the format too. In each episode, the host surprised one audience member – either a celebrity or an unknown – by choosing them to appear onstage, where they would be presented with a run-through of their life story, including the unfortunate events as well as the good ones. The host narrated from a "big blue book" or "big red book" used as a prop, and also interviewed the subject and those friends, family members and colleagues who were able to make guest appearances. Only a few ...

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