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“This is Your Life, Harriet Chance” by Jonathan Evison is a moving novel filled with humor, yet dealing with sensitive issues. The story goes back and forth in time, describing Harriet’s life at different intervals. The scenes of the past are narrated by a game-show host similar to Ralph Edwards (host of the 1950s show “This is Your Life” that surprised guests and took 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 compassionate yet tough.
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. Harriet is a 78-year-old woman in 2015 living in Washington state. As an adult, Harriet finds a rewarding job and career as a legal assistant only to have to leave the job to raise children. Her husband, Bernard of 55 years, has just died and Harriet feels a huge loss. However, Bernard had severe dementia at the end and he often railed against Harriet, or whoever he thought she might be. At times Harriet thought she could not go on caring for him, but she loved him.
She discovers that her deceased husband 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 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 when she never seemed to live up to her parents’ expectations.
During this story, the reader meets Harriet’s best friend, Mildred, who ultimately betrayed her. Harriet asks her best friend, Mildred, to accompany her but backs out at the last minute. Harriet’s husband was not what she thought he was, and she is devastated as she feels her life was a lie.
The author helps the reader to understand 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 past, she realizes things weren’t always quite what they seemed. Harriet is rediscovering her own individuality and trying to move on. The book jacket reads, “This is a wonderful tale of acceptance, reexamination and forgiveness.”