Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers

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Jill's take on Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers is another one of those authors whom I just love. I love his use of language, the kinds of characters he builds and the worlds he creates for these characters to inhabit. I get engrossed in his stories and feel as if I am living amongst these people. So when we saw his new book, Heroes of the Frontier at the bookstore in Milan, there was almost no question about purchasing it. We greedily gathered up the book along with our other finds and couldn’t wait to start reading.

Heroes of the Frontier tells the story of a mother who seems at the end of her rope. She’s had a failed dental practice, a failed relationship, two children whom she seems to adore, though doesn’t seem to know how to be a parent. Her upbringing was problematic to say the least and she just seems completely inept at dealing with the world. She created what she thought was a perfect life only to find out that it was not. So, she rashly sets out on a road trip in a ramshackle camper van with only a half-baked idea of where she and her kids would go. Alaska. That’s pretty much where the planning ended.

I identified with her immediately. Aside from the details being completely different than my life, I found myself nodding along and thinking, “this is how I felt before we sold everything!” I think we all come to a point in our lives where we start questioning how we are living. And while Eggers doesn’t expound on or really write about this crisis in specific philosophical terms, all of the actions taken by Josie (the main character) shout out varying degrees of self-exploration and re-jiggering her place in the world.

It’s easy while reading the book to be like, “you are the worst mother ever” but then you step back and think about how parents are just people living their lives and are not necessarily provided with any special power or gift that would allow them to wisely raise children. The scenarios that Josie finds herself and (by extension) her children in are astounding. The reader sits sort of shocked at how little thought Josie puts into things. It’s as if she is just letting events and life take her and is ok with whatever happens – she’s not responsible for the good or bad. In fact, she doesn’t really ever make any decisions.

I can’t say that I liked most of the characters in this book. I had difficulty liking Josie’s really brash daughter and her overly sensitive son. I understood Eggers’s decision to turn gender roles and stereotypes around and found it interesting, but the actions the daughter takes are just frustrating to me. I didn’t really like Josie herself, though found her an interesting enough character to continue reading.

Overall, I really enjoyed Heroes of the Frontier. It’s a quick read, has some really beautiful imagery and gets to the heart of personal exploration when on journey’s such as the one taken on by Josie and her kids. It provided me with some interesting thoughts to consider on ways of interacting with the world. I’ll be chewing on these thoughts for a while after having finished the book.

 

Zac's take on Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers

I generally enjoy reading anything by Dave Eggers, and Heroes of the Frontier this was no exception. He is a very clear writer who sees his subjects and characters very well and doesn’t shy away from them. As I’m sure Jill mentioned in her review, this is about the mid life crisis of a mother of two children. She flees her dental practice in Ohio after being sued by a patient who had bone cancer that manifest itself in the jaw if I recall. Her husband has left her and it didn’t seem like he was much of a loss.

With great humor there is a section of the novel where Eggers describes him as a “loose bowelled man” and illustrates this in several ways. I know this is way more than you need to know, but when I was reading this I had just caught something in Morocco and really felt like he was describing me in many ways. I was reading it and thinking: Oh, no. Jill married a “loose bowelled man” too! But luckily I got over that particular bug and moved on to several others while in Morocco.

So she picks up the kids and runs to Alaska, rents a mobile home and takes the kids on a hapless journey across the state narrowly avoiding wild fires and accidentally killing her children in several ways.

She makes some really bad choices and her parenting seems dubious at best, but she is floundering to find herself and struggling to make sense of her past and her decisions and in many ways just wanting to not make any decisions at all.

It reminds me of one mothers day when I was a kid and my brother and I were in the car with my mom. She must have been going through a divorce at that time – not from our father, but from her 3rd husband. I remember her crying at the steering wheel and us saying “mom? Mom? What are we going to eat mom?” and she said that she has changed her name. It isn’t mom anymore. Surely she was really tired of us calling to her for everything. That incessant way children have. We then started to guess her name, which I don’t remember making her laugh, but I’m sure was quite hilarious to anybody watching. I think we landed on Fred. She didn’t respond still. We were indeed hungry and so I suggested that we go to the cash machine for a withdrawal so we could buy some pizza, and this is when I learned that the cash machine doesn’t just give money to anybody who walks up to it, but there has to be money in your account and there was no money in the account. I was like: Just have them give you the money! Go to the ATM and they will give you money. I think of her now and wonder what had happened to get her to that point – forehead on the steering wheel, mascara on her cheeks, not responding to her name and not telling us her new name.

I think of her and I see her in this novel by Dave Eggers. I can also see this novel being turned into a movie – it has all the hallmarks of a coming of age story for a woman who desperately needs to find herself and it has a host of quirky characters that traipse through her journey. If you are looking for something easy and entertaining, or if you suspect you married a “loose bowelled man” Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers is the novel for you.