“This is Your Life, Harriet Chance” by Jonathan Evison is a moving novel filled with humor yet dealing with serious and sensitive issues. The book describes Harriet’s life at different intervals.
The scenes from Harriet’s past are narrated by a game-show-like host similar to Ralph Edwards, host of the 1950s TV show “This is Your Life,” which would surprise guests and take them through their lives. Having the narrator address Harriet is an interesting vehicle to confront her with the life choices she has made. The narrator is tough, yet compassionate.
The author clearly wanted to give the reader a modern-day woman who has had to adapt to the changing roles of mother and wife. At the start of the novel in 2015, Harriet is 78 and living in Washington State. As a younger woman she found a rewarding job as a legal assistant but had to leave to raise children. Her husband of 55 years, Bernard, has just died, and Harriet feels a huge loss. However, Bernard had severe dementia at the end and he often railed against her, or whoever he thought she might be. At times Harriet thought she could not go on caring for him, despite her love for him.
After Bernard’s death she discovers that he had booked an Alaskan cruise for two. She thinks it odd he would have done this since they never traveled anywhere. Maybe there was a secret side to Bernard that she never knew. She decides to take the trip but soon learns a disturbing secret.
The novel skips back and forth from the present as the narrator recounts key moments in Harriet’s life, which range from parenting anecdotes to painful childhood memories of never being able to live up to her parents’ expectations. During this story, the reader meets her best friend, Mildred. Harriet asks Mildred to accompany her on the cruise, but at the last minute backs out. She is devastated to learn her husband was not what she thought he was, and comes to feel her life was a lie.
The story also focuses on the dysfunctional relationship Harriet has had with her daughter, Caroline.
This is a novel about the human condition – about disappointment, delusion and redemption. As Harriet reexamines her life, she realizes things were not always quite what they seemed. Harriet is rediscovering her own individuality and trying to move on. As the book jacket reads, “this is a wonderful tale of acceptance, reexamination and forgiveness.”