Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Heroes of the Frontier' Is a Journey without Destination

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Heroes of the Frontier' Is a Journey without Destination

Article excerpt

Getting lost as a way of escaping from problems on the home front is an eternal theme. And it's explored once again in Dave Eggers's latest novel, Heroes of the Frontier, telling the tale of a single mom from Ohio who drags her young son and daughter through Alaska in a rented RV.

Josie is the mom. She's 38, she's lost her dental practice after being sued by a cancerous patient, and she's lost the mirage of a nuclear family. The latter circumstance stems from the shiftless father of her children embracing the Occupy movement and shunning economic stability, a mindset that causes him to want to abandon any vestige of proximate comfort.

These problems, along with the usual assortment of vexations bestowed by parenthood, leave Josie willing to try almost anything to shed her embitterment and disappointment. Like driving through Alaska with little more in mind than visiting a quasi-step-sister with whom Josie has occasional, if always fragile, uneasy alliances. Said alliances unravel in a blink, stripping Josie of any hope of stability during her ill-advised Alaskan getaway.

Josie wants to stay off the grid in Alaska. She worries that Carl, whom she thinks of as "an invertebrate" and remembers as "a loose-boweled man," will follow and disrupt her misadventures.

Why a man who rarely pays attention to his children - even on the absent father-designated schedule of weekends and holidays - would suddenly venture from his Florida home to reclaim those same children is, one assumes, a contradiction meant to illustrate Josie's fraying mental state. That concern, though, means Josie deals only in cash. Of that she has precious little: $3,000 stuffed in a bag and meant to last them who knows how long.

The children are 5-year-old Ana and 8-year-old Paul. Ana is, quite literally, a human wrecking ball, smashing through life without regret. (Eggers describes Ana as "a black-eyed animal with a burst of irrationally red hair" and writes that Paul "was far more reasonable and kind and wise than his mother," a low bar to hurdle.) Paul is the responsible first-born and then some, assuming a caretaker role for his baby sister while displaying an excessive awareness of his mother's shortcomings.

With her sensible son and mayhem-friendly daughter in tow, Josie has disappeared into Alaska. Their exit from suburban Ohio was so immediate that (First World problems alert) the only DVD they managed to pack was a Spanish version of "Tom and Jerry."

Their enfeebled RV coughs along at a maximum cruising speed of 48 miles per hour. On one occasion, Josie almost drives them straight into wildfires. On another, an inadvertent flipped switch in the RV emits noxious fumes fueled by the worst possible source, a problem resolved only after lengthy befuddlement and suffering.

Mostly, Josie and her kids wander around, bouncing from near- disaster to complete disappointment to something in between. …

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