Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers is a captivating and often hilarious novel about family, loss, wilderness, and the curse of a violent America.
The story follows a single mother, Josie, who takes her two children on the lam in Alaska. She is searching for a new life, away from the deadbeat boyfriend and the dental practice she has lost.
The novel is set in contemporary Alaska, and Josie’s journey is full of unique Alaskan dangers. Despite this, we never really feel that they will touch the inhabitants of the Chateau.
Eggers is trying to tell us something about contemporary American life, about the meaning of courage in a world where danger appears only on television. Josie says near the end of the novel that all she wants for her children is that they learn to be brave.
America has lost its bravery, Eggers tells us, and it can be found in nature, in open spaces, in shucking off the trappings of mall life and the media and consumerism.
Heroes of the Frontier is a novel that won’t please everyone: Josie’s story is meandering, restrained and lacking in thrills. But it acts on the reader like a breath of Alaskan air, cleansing the spirit and lifting the heart. It is a book about hope and courage, and how even in the darkest of times, there is still light.
What I Liked
I really liked the setting. I’ve only been to Alaska once, but it’s enchanting. I also liked his meta-joke about fleeing to Alaska and how it’s somehow outside of the US.
Fun fact – while traveling in Alaska, our guide / driver told me that fleeing to Alaska is actually pretty common. And ironically, it only makes it easier to find the fleeing person. It’s easier because Alaska has so few people living in it – that everyone knows everyone, especially their neighbors. Even if you flee to the most remote area of Alaska, somebody will know exactly where you are and will report you to the authorities. Alaskans know their land – and some long-time residents know all the individual animals that share the land with them.
What I Did Not Like
It’s a bit slow. And the main character is a bit maddening at times.