Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Eggers Novel Takes Not-So-Romantic Trip to Alaskan Frontier

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Eggers Novel Takes Not-So-Romantic Trip to Alaskan Frontier

Article excerpt

In a rickety RV parked at a rest stop in Alaska, Josie drinks wine from a plastic cup and stares off into the wilderness. She isn't supposed to be here. She's a dentist from Ohio, a single mother with two children sleeping in the RV. Yet here she is, in Alaska "at once the same country but another country ... almost Russia, almost oblivion" with $3,000 in cash and no particular destination.

So Dave Eggers' "Heroes of the Frontier" asks us, what calamity pushes you so far? What disillusionment sends you as far from home as you can travel? And what do you find when you reach that limit?

For Josie, there's little left to lose. After a long and unsatisfying relationship, the deadbeat father of her children is marrying another woman. A malpractice lawsuit has closed her dental practice and left her broke. A beloved patient, Jeremy, has died in Afghanistan after Josie encouraged him to join the Marines with a humanitarian vision of building schools for girls and working on clean water projects. As a teenager, Josie emancipated herself from her parents after they were complicit in a scandal involving Vietnam veterans, and she has no familial ties.

Josie's only confidants and companions are her children, the angel and demon sitting on either shoulder. Ana is a destructive 5- year-old with a love of Darth Vader and Batman and a mess of red curls the kind of holy terror who rips the towel rack off the wall when left unattended in the bathroom. Paul, 8, is the "ice priest," a gentle, protective old soul who tells stories to placate his sister and helps his mother navigate.

Home simply and repeatedly identified as Ohio is Midwestern, fly-over nowhere, a symbol of America at its most mundane. "Ohio, birthplace to most of the country's presidents, was now home to most of its assholes."

The violence of Afghanistan and Vietnam is juxtaposed with the "polite, muted violence" of an aggressively liberal, competitive middle-class culture. Women drive angrily to yoga, dying patients sue dentists for millions they won't live to receive, and helicopter parents cast judgment for every missed recital and PTA meeting. There's a page-long rant against Whole Foods, that "ivy-covered organic grocery begun by a libertarian megalomaniac" where people "rushed from their cars, half-livid, to buy havarti and prosecco and veggie burgers. …

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