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This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!: A Novel

This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!: A Novel

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This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!: A Novel

4/5 (44 evaluări)
288 pages
4 hours
Sep 8, 2015


“Insightful, richly entertaining . . . Evison writes humanely and with good humor of his characters, who, like the rest of us, muddle through, too often without giving ourselves much of a break. A lovely, forgiving character study that’s a pleasure to read.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

With Bernard, her husband of fifty-five years, now in the grave, seventy-eight-year-old Harriet Chance impulsively sets sail on an ill-conceived Alaskan cruise that her late husband had planned. But what she hoped would be a voyage leading to a new lease on life becomes a surprising and revelatory journey into Harriet’s past. 

Jonathan Evison has crafted a bighearted novel with an endearing heroine at the helm. Part dysfunctional love story, part poignant exploration of the mother-daughter relationship, nothing is what it seems in this tale of acceptance, reexamination, and forgiveness.
“A terrific novel, funny and moving, wistful and wise. Jonathan Evison’s writing crackles on the page.” —Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins
This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! is as sweet as it is inventive, profound as it is hilarious, unflinching as it is bighearted.” —Maria Semple, author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette
[An] irresistible, inventive novel full of important ideas about how we live our lives as parents, children, partners, and human beings . . . Evison is a ridiculously gifted storyteller.” —Jami Attenberg, author of The Middlesteins
“A generous and wise tale, told with Evison’s trademark verve and charisma, This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! is a deeply felt and deeply comforting novel.” —Patrick deWitt, author of The Sisters Brothers
This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! has all the wonderful snap and sizzle we’ve come to expect from Jonathan Evison’s work, and as much heart as any novel I’ve read in recent years.” —Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

“Both uplifting and melancholy, funny and thought-provoking, this entertaining read speaks directly to the importance of acceptance and healing.” —Booklist
Sep 8, 2015

Despre autor

Jonathan Evison is the author of the novels All About Lulu, West of Here, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!, Lawn Boy, and Legends of the North Cascades. He lives with his wife and family in Washington State.

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This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! - Jonathan Evison


November 4, 1936

(Harriet at Zero)

Here you come, Harriet Nathan, tiny face pinched, eyes squinting fiercely against the glare of surgical lamps, at a newly renovated Swedish hospital, high on Seattle’s First Hill. It’s an unseasonably chilly Wednesday in autumn, and the papers are calling for snow. Roosevelt by a landslide! they proclaim. Workers grumbling in Flint, Michigan! In Spain, a civil war rages.

Meanwhile, out in the corridor, your father paces the floor, shirtsleeves rolled to the elbow. Clutching an unlit Cuban cigar, he checks his wristwatch. He’s got a three-o’clock downtown.

By the end of the week, Harriet, you’ll leave the hospital wrapped in a goose-down swaddler knit by your ailing grandmother. Your father will miss his three-o’clock today. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. They don’t call it labor for nothing. Let’s not forget the grit and determination of your mother. All that panting and pushing, all that clenching and straining, eyes bulging, forehead slick with sweat. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the fact that she won’t begrudge you any of it, though you’ll always be your father’s girl.

Here you come, better late than never: a face presentation. Not the boy your father so desperately wanted, but here you come, anyway, all six pounds three ounces of you. Button nose, conical head, good color. A swirl of dark hair atop your little crown. And a healthy pair of lungs, too.

Listen to you wail, as the doctor slaps your fanny: your cries, phlegmy and protracted. Hear them? These are virtually the last sounds you will utter until well after your second birthday.

Yes, Harriet, you were an exceptionally quiet child. Too quiet.

Exhibit A: December 31, 1936. For the rest of their lives, your parents will regale you, and anyone who will listen, with a rollicking story about a certain New Year’s Eve party on the north end. The story involves a bassinet into which your father, in a moment of stoned clarity and admirable foresight, fastened you by your ankles and armpits for safety, using his own necktie and a leather belt from the host’s closet. The party is a triumph, as the story goes, with Bacchus leading the charge. The music is brassy, the walls are thrumming. So frenzied the celebration, in fact, that amid their merrymaking, revelers fail to notice the upended bassinet in the corner. That is, until whiz kid, Charlie Fitzsimmons, the firm’s youngest partner, lipstick on his collar, ladies’ underpants adorning the crown of his head, nearly trips on you on his way back from the punch bowl.

It will not be the last time Charlie Fitzsimmons takes notice of you.

Would you look at that glass of milk? he shouts.

For an instant, the party is struck dumb as everyone turns their attention to the corner. Look at Harriman Nathan’s girl!

She’ll make a hell of a judge, observes Charlie.

And of course, hilarity ensues. The story never fails, and you’re the punch line, Harriet.

There you are, for God only knows how long, upside down, your poker face turning from red to blue to purple, your little gray eyes gazing impassively at the world, as your parents ring in a prosperous 1937.

You never made a peep.

This is your life, Harriet. The beginning, anyway.

August 11, 2015

(Harriet at Seventy-Eight)

Harriet finds Father Mullinix in his stuffy office behind the chapel, his reading glasses roosting halfway down the bridge of his nose, his laptop propped open in front of him.

He’s on his feet before she can cross the threshold. Harriet, you’re shivering. Sit. He lowers her into a straight-backed chair. My goodness, you’re sopping wet.

He’s here, Father, she says. I found his slippers this morning next to mine in the breakfast nook.

Father Mullinix smiles patiently, setting his big hands on the desktop. We’ve talked about this several times recently, Harriet. There’s but one ghost in the Bible, and we both know who that is.

But last week, the WD-40. And now this.

Drawing a weary breath, Father Mullinix holds it in.

You don’t understand, says Harriet. The WD-40, that was him, telling me to quiet those hinges on the dishwasher. He hated the squeaking.

Slowly, Father Mullinix releases his breath. Clasping his hands together on the desktop, he proceeds expertly in a measured tone.

Perhaps it is possible he’s trying to speak to you through God, he concedes. But certainly I wouldn’t take the WD-40 as a sign. Perhaps you left it there on the chair, a lapse in memory. It happens to me daily. Yesterday I found these very glasses in the pantry. We’re all so busy in these times, so preoccupied. And you of all people, Harriet, you are so diligent in all things, particularly for someone of your . . . experience.

But I know I didn’t leave it there. And the slippers.

Well, I’m sure there’s an explanation.

I saw him Father, I felt him. Last night, we were at the Continental Buffet. He was eating corned beef.

Ah, I see. You’ve had another dream.

I wasn’t dreaming. He was an actual presence.

Father Mullinix smiles sadly, but Harriet can tell his patience is wearing thin. For months, she’s been eating up his time, unloading her grief on him, bludgeoning him with the details of her dream life and, most recently, trying in vain to convince him that Bernard still lingered somehow in the earthly realm. Perhaps she was mistaken in confiding in him this time, though he’d never failed her in the past.

Do you think I’m, oh, Father . . . you don’t think I’m . . . ?

I think, perhaps, you could use some rest, Harriet.

But Father, I assure you I’m—

Please, let me drive you home, Harriet.

September 9, 1957

(Harriet at Twenty)

Look at you, Harriet, a grown woman! No longer a glass of milk but a tall drink of water. Okay, not so tall. Maybe a little on the squat side, maybe a little pudgy, to hear your mother tell it. But your hygiene is fastidious, your bouffant is formidable. And you’re still quiet, which makes you popular among lawyers and men alike. But you’ve no time for men. You’re a professional. Marriage is one negotiation that can wait. First, your own apartment. An automobile. A promotion.

The sky is the limit!

Here you are, at Fourth and Union, top floor, just three months removed from your associate’s degree. And not your father’s firm, either. Sure, you had a push, a few advantages in life, but you got here on your own. No, you’ll never be a lawyer, but a crack legal assistant is not out of the question. You love your job. Okay, maybe love is a bit strong. But prepping documents, writing summaries, filing motions, all of it agrees with you. Look at you, downtown girl: chic but pragmatic. Shopping at Frederick & Nelson! Lunching at the Continental Buffet!

Let’s be honest, though. Let’s talk about the problem that has no name. All these months later, they’re still slapping your fanny around the office. Your salary doesn’t stretch that far. The work is exhausting. As both a woman and an assistant, you’re expected to work harder. And for what? A string of pearls? A sleek automobile? A slap on the can from a junior partner? It will be six more years before Friedan exposes the feminine mystique, twelve more before Yoko Ono proclaims woman as the nigger of the world. But by God, Harriet Nathan, you’re determined to buck your disadvantages. Okay, maybe determined is a bit strong; how about resigned to them? The least you can do is achieve independence. Tackle adulthood on your own terms. Put that associate’s degree to some purpose.

Make a name for yourself, Harriet Nathan.

The truth you’re not telling anyone, especially not your father, is that amid the administrative whirlwind of the office, the hustle and bustle of downtown, the ceaseless tedium of legal research, you yearn for something less exhausting: for stability, predictability, and yes, a Christmas hearth festooned with stockings.

You yearn, too, Harriet, for a man. C’mon, admit it.

So, what is it about this new young building superintendent that catches your attention in the hallway upon your return from lunch, as he explains to your boss, in layman’s terms even you can understand, the difference between AC and DC? Surely, it’s not his stature. He’s two inches shorter than you. And it turns out, he’s not all that young, at thirty-three. There is, however, a squareness to his shoulders, a symmetry to his face, a quiet confidence in his bearing. Not just the firm, but the whole building—all that concrete and steel, all that electricity, all that plumbing—is reliant upon his capability. You’re not alone. The whole office is impressed by his confidence, charmed by his forthrightness. Even the partners, those pompous autocrats, bulging at the waist, those experts who defer to no one, treat this man as an equal.

But here’s the thing: tending an elevator, a fan, a heating duct, in his neatly creased work trousers, penlight clutched between his teeth, as he reaches for his tool belt, exposing the gray Semper Fi tattoo on his inside wrist, he strikes you as more than their equal.

Harriet Nathan, meet Bernard Chance, your valentine for 1957.

April 6, 2015

(Harriet at Seventy-Eight)

A phone is ringing. Slippers pad down the hallway of a large, otherwise quiet house in the flats of Carlsborg. Three bedrooms, two and one-half bathrooms, in the banana belt. With mountain views. Convenient shopping. Imagine country living in this dream home on 2.5 acres!

A spotted hand picks up the receiver and answers in a voice dry and brittle as a wheat cracker. Hello?

May I please speak to Bernard Chance?

The voice on the other end is also female, slightly stiff.

I’m afraid he passed in November.

I see, I’m so sorry. Is this—?

This is his wife, Harriet.

Well, I guess that explains it. I’m so sorry.

Explains what, dear? To whom am I speaking?

This is Janis Segress from the Ann and Virginia Nitterhouse Foundation. Mr. Chance never picked up his gift basket after our silent auction last fall—wait, let’s see, 2013, so, that’s two falls ago. The voucher expires at the end of August.


The Alaskan cruise? He never mentioned it?

Bernard? Alaska? This is the first I’ve heard of it. Are you certain you have the right Bernard Chance?

One thirty-six Rake’s Glen?

Yes, that’s us.

We’ve been trying to reach him for months at 491-2318, but that number is no longer in service.

Oh, that was his cellular telephone, dear. He never cared much for the device. He swore it would give him a brain tumor.

I see.

Of course, he went much quicker than he might have with a brain tumor. Physically, anyway.

Well, that’s a blessing, I’m sure.

It was no blessing, dear, let me tell you.

Well, I’m certainly sorry to hear it. You’re welcome to—

Unless you consider urinating in Walmart a blessing.

I see, well, as I was about to s—

Or wandering Cline Spit in your pajamas.

Yes, well, I’m certainly glad we were able to track you down before the—

I was outmatched, dear. It’s that simple. I was an old woman myself. Who was I to think I could care for anybody under the circumstances?

Mm. I see. Well, says the voice. At any rate, our offices are located on—

He was still quite strong, physically, you understand. Overpowering at times. But that was only part of the problem.

Uh-huh, yes, I see. As I was saying, our offices are located on North Sequim Avenue at West Hendrickson—kitty-corner to Jace Real Estate.

It’s a cruel process, aging. Take my advice, dear, maintain your independence as long as possible.

I’ll be sure and do that, Mrs. Chance. Now, you’re welcome to redeem your gift anytime between ten a.m. and four p.m., Tuesday through Friday.

Don’t let the world push you around. Stick up for yourself, dear.

Yes, I’ll be sure and do that. And Mrs. Chance: congratulations!

Thank you, dear.

Replacing the phone receiver, Harriet pads back down the hallway to the foyer, where Bernard’s blue windbreaker droops like a windless flag off the coatrack, a book of crosswords jutting out of the side pocket. On her way past, she stoops to straighten his sneakers.

Hmph. Alaska, she says, straightening up. What on earth were you thinking, dear?

She retires to the kitchen, sets the kettle to boiling, and lays out two mugs in the breakfast nook.

Well, you can hardly expect me to go alone, she says, unsheathing a tea bag. It’s true, I could always take Mildred. Oh, but dear, do I have to go? Would you be hurt if I didn’t? You know I’m not a traveler. What you were thinking? A cruise?

Just as the kettle is about to hiss, she hoists it off the burner and proceeds filling the mugs. Oh, fine, then. I’ll ask her. Are you happy now?

August 15, 2015

(Bernard, Deceased, Day 277)

Forgettable dress shirt, forgettable tie, pattern baldness: CTO Charmichael is nothing like Bernard expected. But then, none of this is what he expected.

Mr. Chance, please sit down, Charmichael says, without looking up from the manila folder splayed open before him.

Chief transitional officer, you’d think he’d have a bigger desk. Something in mahogany. But no, it’s institutional, bland and sturdy. A vice principal’s desk. In fact, the whole office screams high school administration—the cork bulletin board, the squat gray filing cabinets, the rotary pencil sharpener.

I presume you know why you’re here? he says, still not looking up from the file.

Actually, no, sir.

Finally, Charmichael looks up, engaging Bernard’s gray eyes meaningfully. A little matter with some household lubricant, for starters.


Some wandering slippers? Starting to ring a bell, Candidate Chance?

Ah, says Bernard. That.

Charmichael furrows his brow. Strictly forbidden, you understand. As is eating, for the record. Yes, even in dreams.

I thought that—

"Any contact is forbidden, Candidate Chance. Regardless of the nature. This was all in the orientation, as well as the manual. Hard to miss, really. Section One, as a matter of fact. Was that not perfectly clear?"

Uh, yessir. Yessir, it was, or I thought it was. Forgive me, sir.

Believe me, I’m trying, we all are. There’s hope for you, Chance. That’s why you’re here. If there wasn’t hope for you, you’d be . . . well, somewhere else.

But, sir, the thing is, she has no idea what’s coming. The shock might be too much. I gotta get to her, I gotta explain.

By my reckoning, Candidate Chance, you had nearly four decades to do that. Why the big hurry, now that you’re deceased?

I don’t mean just about me, sir. There’s a lot more. Stuff with the kids. Especially with Caroline. With all due respect, it’s liable to kill her, sir. She won’t understand, she doesn’t see it coming. Somebody’s gotta be there for her. Otherwise, it’s just . . . well, it’s just not—

Fair, Candidate Chance? There are a great many things you’re not taking into consideration, here.

But I see things I didn’t see then, sir. I know things—about Harriet, about Caroline—things I had no way of knowing then.

Had you looked a little harder, you might have at least suspected them, Candidate.

I gotta go back.

Out of the question.

What if I don’t comply?

Excuse me?

What will happen to me if I go down there again?

"First, I’d say you better check your coordinates. That is, if you’re heading down anywhere. ‘Over there’ might be a little more accurate but still insufficient. ‘In there’ is probably the

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  • (4/5)
    A fine book with which to begin the new year, as it involves a "life-review" of sorts, patterned (in part) after the old TV show, "This Is Your Life." If that sounds all too cute, I urge you to press on as Evison manages this territory with a gracefulness that appears effortless. Parenting, marriage, aging, family, loyalty, secrets, honesty, sacrifice, caregiving (I also enjoyed Evison's novel: The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving)...In a relatively short novel, all these areas are visited through the life and memories of Harriet as she takes an Alaskan cruise. All aboard!
  • (4/5)
    This book deals with some potentially heavy subject matter. Harriet Chance is a very recent widow, aged 78. Shortly after the death of her husband, Bernard Chance, she receives a call that her husband had entered and won an Alaskan Cruise for two. Harriet was unaware of this , and it comes as a great surprise to her. In the course of deciding whether to take that cruise on her own or with a friend, secrets about her husband's life come to light. She and her husband have two adult children, who also figure in the story.However, Jonathan Evison has a breezy, often humourous way of dealing with sorrow and grief.A most enjoyable read.4 Stars
  • (5/5)
    I'm so glad I happened upon this wonderful novel. Harriet Chance's life is presented to us in scenes from her life, bouncing back and forth between the past and the future. Her deceased husband appears, only to her, and tries to make amends for injuries he's caused her in the past. Her daughter joins her on a trip and the truth that has been unspoken for many years begins to heal their relationship and help her daughter. I could see my mother and I in this book. (I was always her "prickly" child because I told the truth whether it was pleasant or not. In this case both Helen and her daugher are "prickly". ) It's well written and somewhat reminiscent of Kate Atkins' "Life After Life". A really satisfying read.
  • (4/5)
    I really enjoyed this book. Harriet Chance, 78, has decided to take the Alaskan cruise that her deceased husband, Bernard, won in a raffle. Her friend, Mildred, backs out at the last minute and her estranged daughter joins her after the cruise has started. This is the story of a life (like our own?) that did not turn out as expected. Harriet is a wonderful endearing character. I've already put Jonathan Evison's other books on my list! Definitely recommended.
  • (5/5)
    I am in awe of Jonathan Evison's ability to understand women as well as he must be able to do as evidenced in this book. This is Harriet Chances's life moving back and forth in time from birth to her 78th year. It is compelling to read, but not a walk in the park, especially for those of us of a certain age. It will stay with me and be on my mind for a very long time.
  • (3/5)
    I wanted to like this book more than I did. I didn't like the way the chapters were arranged in random chronological order. After her husband dies, Harriet Chance learns the truth about the life she thought she had been living for 78 years. So many people and events were not as they seemed during her life. In some ways, what she learns makes her a better person, but more often, learning about what really happened behind her back just makes her mad and drink more.
  • (2/5)
    From the flyleaf synopsis, I guess I was expecting a bit different book. Instead, the voiceover narrator (similar to the disembodied voice who talks about George Bailey) ping-ponged through events in Harriet's life. Everything culminates in an Alaskan cruise Harriet decides to take, discovering that her husband Bernard had set it all up previous to becoming ill. Sadly, it's all a tale as old a time.
  • (3/5)
    Despite the glowing blurbs from well-known authors, this is a frequently told story of an elderly woman on her last fling, with some non-shocking revelations and a ghostly dead husband. Many of the life experiences - Alzheimer's, problems with children, lack of personal satisfaction and career achievement - are commonplace. The author expresses his desire to pay tribute to many of the unacknowledged heroic women out there and in his life, but it's a letdown that his narrative is so predictable. I'll take Olive Kitttridge any day.
  • (4/5)
    This book's superficially light tone hides a dark heart. While this lighter tone and the narrative style may not appeal to every one, I think Harriet Chance has the potential to introduce Evison's work to a much larger audience than he has seen previously.
  • (4/5)
    Read from June 13 to 27, 2015This is the story of a life, Harriet's life. Her life is filled with all the things lives are filled with: choices, consequences, mistakes, miracles, good days, bad days, old friends, new friends, husbands, children. We visit Harriet's past through "this is your life" style chapters and are with her in the present as she decides to go on a cruise that her now-deceased husband bid on a couple of years before. Evison has a way of creating such vividly real characters. Harriet is far from perfect and I loved her more for her imperfections. Great read for anyone that wants a little humor with a side of sad (and sometimes happy) reality.
  • (4/5)
    Thank you to Goodreads and Algonquin Books for this delightful book, won in the Goodreads Giveaway. This Is Your Life Harriet Chance by Jonathan Evison was a very pleasurable read. Funny, bittersweet, and honest, Evison paints a very human portrait of Harriet Chance in her 78th year as she examines her marriage, hopes, dreams, and disappointments. The story is presented in a unique way. The chapters alternate between a narrative reminiscent of the TV show "This is Your Life!" that spans Harriets early years and the present day first person account of the Alaskan cruise she is on. As the earlier years of her life are presented you form an understanding of the the person she is and what has shaped her choices and her relationships with her late husband and children. Throughout the story Harriet sees and speaks to her dead husband and is forced to address her own mortality. I loved the originality of this book and plan to read other Evison works.
  • (4/5)
    I will say that I've never read a book structured like this one. When I first started, I was a bit put off by the "This is your Life' introductions and TV host narrations. But after a few chapters of getting into the flow of the book, I found that I loved the way the story was presented. Harriet Chance is a 78 year old widow who is talking to her dead husband on a regular basis. She finds out that he has won a cruise to Alaska so she decides to take it as a memory to him, even though her children feel like she shouldn't. The author bounces around in the chapters - Harriet at 78, Harriet at 20, Harriet at 51, Harriet at 76 and we learn her story (and the rest of the characters) in bits and pieces. Just when you think you have someone figured out, a new chapter comes along to shed a different light on them. All of the characters are a combination of the good and bad decisions in their lives. The author sums the book up near the end with this 'While the days unfold, one after the other, and the numbers all move in one direction, our lives are not linear.'I definitely recommend this book and I plan to look into earlier books by this author.Thanks to Algonquin Books for an advance reading copy
  • (4/5)
    Harriet Chance finds herself living with Bernard, her dead husband's ghost. With her friends, children and pastor believing she has lost her marbles, Harriet decides to take the cruise that she hadn't known Bernard had booked before dying. Failed relationships, betrayal and sour grapes make for an entertaining but sad tale.
  • (4/5)
    This is your review, Harriet Chance. No way to corny but this book is written in that kind of style. An unknown narrator taking us back and forth and through the present of Harriet's life. Like the TV show that I kind of remember my mom watching. This book is laugh out loud funny at time and incredibly sad at others. Don't think I will ever forget Harriet and the lobster. You have too read this to understand and experience.Kept asking myself what I would do if I found out the things Harriet did at the age of seventy eight? Memories, memories that make up a life, things we remember and regret, things we remember and cherish. How to understand how her life got here from there, but she does have some help from her two year dead husband. Some of that part is pretty amusing too. The cruise to Alaska will prove memorable in more ways than one, but it gives her a chance to reflect, realize her mistakes and make at least one thing better. Seems there is a spate of elderly women novels, this year. I have read a few and this is one of my favorites. So easy to identify with, except the dead husband part maybe, though I did appreciate that little insertion of whimsy. We all have regrets of some sort or another, things we would like to go back and change but of course this is impossible. We all do, the best we can and so did Harriet.ARC from publisher.
  • (1/5)
    I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with a narrator that hated the main character so much. I guess it's supposed to be edgy but the level of animosity begs you to take a side... although having finished the book I'm still not sure whose side I was supposed to be on.
    The characters, though few, underwent little development and although we saw many events in Harriet's life, I didn't feel as if i gained a much better understanding of her. She remained one dimensional. Harriet was regret and little more.
    I also felt that someone should have told the author the old axiom 'write what you know'... Imo Harriet's perspective as a woman felt insincere, the ( spoiler) details about the cruise didn't ring true and the description of Alaska seemed to be from someone who had never been not done any in-depth research. The story could have occurred literally anywhere and the author would do best to interview quite a few more women before writing from the female perspective again.
  • (5/5)
    @ 72, I’m enthralled by the random progression of this story. As we see or remotely experience the absenting of others from our lives, perhaps we achieve a broader view and understand our own history in the world as a mere dot of time; become more familiar, comfortable with the end of life, taking a place with other dots in a spiraling line...just another expression of an infinite universe. I’d like to believe that, like Harriet, at the end of our time in this expression of existence, we are not filled with apprehension, but a knowing acceptance, even interest in, the experience awaiting in the next dot of time.
    In the meantime, think of all the fine literature that we will create/enjoy.
  • (5/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    Need a moment to gratefully contemplate your life? Read this book. Harriet is metaphor from which all of us can learn. Just want a great read? Read about Harriet.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (5/5)
    Extremely well told story. I usually dislike the jumping back and forth between time periods, but the author really made it work well, and it enabled several surprise twists.

    The best part was how realistic Harriet's family and their relationships were, including her parents.
  • (1/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    I hated this book. It is smarmy and filled with hackneyed platitudes about the best things in life, and about the experiences and crushed aspirations of 50s/60s housewives. The characters are one dimensional and utterly inauthentic. The titular Harriet is filled with regrets and Chardonnay, scarred by the evildoing of the adults in her young life (I won't say more since I guess there is a bit of a spoiler here, but if you have watched a Lifetime movie you know what happened.) The next generation (our boomers/Gen x'ers) are shifty and selfish. The awful fat man with he vulgar t-shirts who learns that he is worthwhile and immediately pushes aside the pork loin for a nice chopped salad! Oh, I almost forgot the Grey's Anatomy Denny crap with the "I'm here for you" ghost. Jonathan Evison knows nothing about women, and most especially about mothers and daughters or women's friendships. Though he left no cliché unturned, gave voice to every Feminine Mystique assertion (no disrespect to Betty Friedan, who spoke for millions who had their voices silenced, but what is in that book was not enough to define a full and complex character) and Adult Children of Alcoholics support group slogan, he got just about everything wrong. Just... no.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (4/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    Harriet Chance is a 78 year old widow with several problems. First, her recently deceased husband, Bernard, keeps showing up but only Harriet can see or hear him. Second,her body is declining and her son and daughter seem determined to restrict her lifestyle. Finally, she finds out that her husband had entered and win a contest for a free Alaskan cruise. Harriet decides to honor Bernard's wishes by taking the cruise. Little does she know that over the course of the next week much of what she remembers of her life and a good many things she has tried to forget will re-emerge in startling ways. Witty and engaging, at times funny and also sad. A good read.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (3/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    It's one of those books you come across a lot these days, those written in a breezy, familiar, "readable" style with lots of humor, and lots of breaks and shifts in the action -- but in the context of an underlying topic that's grimmer than expected. I'm not convinced that this is a good thing. Sometimes that style carries you along fluidly, but more often the conflict between tone and material comes to feel unsettling and ill-chosen. And I think this is one of the latter cases. But I'm a hard grader. On the positive side, it's well-written and a fast read, and sometimes really quite fun. Also, some of the subsidiary characters transcend their small roles: Kurt Pickens, come on down.

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  • (2/5)

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    A life in full is always a worthy object for a novel. Here, Jonathan Evison presents the life of Harriet Chance. He does this through a series of snapshots of Harriet at different points throughout her life (she is 78 as the novel commences) in a manner not unlike the old television program, “This Is Your Life.” The snapshots jump about in time and are never more than a few pages in the voice of an omniscient narrator. In the present day scenes do we see Harriet interact with her son and daughter, her best friend, Mildred, and, curiously, with her recently deceased husband, Bernard. There are also a few chapters devoted to Bernard in the afterlife in some kind of way station from whence he makes forbidden dashes back to the real world to interact with Harriet. For the first third of the novel all of this proceeds in anodyne fashion. Then things take a serious turn.The novel changes key significantly when a secret about Bernard is revealed. It jumps another octave when we learn through one of the snapshots something unsettling about the provenance of Harriet’s daughter. And things get very dark indeed when a history of Harriet’s sexual abuse by a family friend is revealed. What is odd in each case, however, is the voice of narrator. Stepping out of the neutral, insipid, mode, the narrator proffers judgements of Harriet that might surprise some readers. Or at least it surprised me. And this brings to light a general problem with Evison’s structure for the novel.Because this is a life seen in brief snapshots, the reader never gets an opportunity to see Harriet in context. We don’t see her develop from one point to the next. And we are forced to rely solely on the viewpoint of the narrator. When that narrator suddenly starts chastising Harriet, even for actions which as a child she most certainly could not be held responsible, we have no resources with which to ascertain whether these judgements are at all fair. We simply have to take them as read. But that is a peculiar place to take your reader. Far from presenting a life and letting the reader reach their own judgements, Evison has decided to force the issue.To be fair, I think that it is the structure itself that has tempted Evison to forego his better instincts as a novelist. But then the decision to use the snapshot view of a life was his as well, so he can’t be absolved completely. In the end, you’ll have to decide for yourself whether this works for you. It didn’t for me.

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  • (2/5)

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    I'd hoped for heartwarming, but ended up with gimmicky and a bit cumbersome, with really no character I actually could get behind, even poor Harriet. I think that maybe in a different format, without the "This is your life" TV show shtick, I might have liked it more. I came away depressed rather than thoughtful.Tags: thank-you-charleston-county-library, thought-i-was-gonna-like, skim-read-til-the-end

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  • (3/5)

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    I finished this book only because I kept thinking Harriet's life had to get better. Such a sad story. Somehow the review I read before choosing this book made her cruise experience seem humorous. I read the book while on a Holland America cruise and am having a much happier time than she did.

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  • (5/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    Thanks to Librarything for a free copy of this book. This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance is heartwarming, sad and incredibly funny at times. The novel consists of chapters alternating between the past told in second person and the present told in third person. The date and Harriet's age are clearly marked at the beginning of each chapter so there is no confusion as to the time period. I really became invested in Harriet's character and felt a great deal of sympathy for her despite her many flaws. I enjoyed Evison's writing style as he skillfully adds some humour to lighten the dark moments, particularly with the character Wayan's little digs about the crab legs incident. All in all, a very enjoyable read.

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  • (2/5)
    Spoilery - Glad I got this from the library since I didn’t like it, although the device used to tell the story is pretty good. It didn’t go anywhere much and where it did was quotidian and had no upshot, basically. So Bernard the Brute had an affair. With Harriet’s best friend. Who wasn’t her friend, best or otherwise, when the affair started. Harriet is a Doormat Extraordinaire and takes on board all the abuse and suffering life can throw at her and still forgives everyone for treating her like shit. Yawn.
  • (4/5)
    This Is Your Life Harriet Chance! Author, Jonathan Evison; Narrator, Susan BoyceHarriet Nathan was born November 4, 1936. On April 16, 1959 she became Mrs. Bernard Chance and gave up her ambition to become a lawyer. She had been ambitious, but it was a time when women were mostly homemakers, mothers, secretaries or teachers. Harriet and Bernard had two children, Skipper and Caroline. If not a perfect life, at least all seemed right with the world. She was aptly named since as her life rolled out in the novel, we were privy to her efforts to explore and view all of her past mistakes, rethink them and make amends where she could. Other characters did the same. It also gave her the chance to discover the truth about previously kept secrets which affected her life profoundly.Secrets and traumas were revealed as the narrative traveled from day one of her birth to the last day of her life. In alternate chapters, the reader was taken from the past which began in 1936, to the present, 2015, moving forward through several specific years in between when momentous or life-changing events occurred for Harriet. She was known as a quiet girl. She did what all women of that era did; she took care of the hearth and home and made sure it was a heallthy place for her husband and children. She was devoted, self-sacrificing and uncomplaining, but she was never truly over the moon with happiness. Even with the disappointments she sometimes dealt with and felt, she never stopped loving her husband. This is a love story with secrets, surprises and very unexpected revelations and consequences. Harriet’s 50+ years of marriage apparently suffered from a lack of communication on many levels. Her children experienced growing pains throughout the years, but eventually turned out okay, although her daughter was a recovering addict and her son was currently in financial straits. Her life was filled with surprises and the consequences of long held secrets. It is told with a light touch of both humor and seriousness, but neither approach is too overwhelming.Harriet’s life, desires, dreams and disappointments are exposed as the story develops. She sometimes felt overburdened when she started a family, disillusioned by her inability to achieve her desire to become a professional, but caring for her son Skip and her husband prevented her from going back to school and achieving that goal of working in a man’s world. She dreamed of returning someday, to some state of independence, and when her son was old enough, rather than ask her successful father for help getting a job, she approached his close friend instead, a man she had known throughout her childhood. He happily hired her, and it was at this point in her life that it became necessary for her to harbor a life-changing secret. One rash moment sent her back to her hearth and home to raise another child, a child named Caroline who always felt as if she were second best.Her husband Bernard became fairly successful, while she was a stay at home mom, but he traveled a lot and their relationship cooled. Passion basically disappeared from their marriage, but she was never truly sure about why this happened. She felt a bit neglected. He rarely did more than harrumph at her comments and she was needy for conversation and companionship. Her friend Mildred, a woman she met in church, became her salvation. When Bernard became seriously ill and died, Mildred helped her through her grief, but Mildred also had a terrible secret, a secret that she wanted desperately to unburden herself of, by revealing it to Harriet. That secret would shake the very foundations of Harriet’s past life, upending her world view.Bernard Chance, also became a quiet man, although he could be and sometimes was, an abusive husband, especially toward the end of their marriage of 54 years which seemed to be withering on the vine. Still, when he became ill, Harriet tended to his needs as best she could. When he died, though, she had him cremated rather than buried, as he wished. The reader will wonder why she disobeyed his instructions. Out of the blue, one day she received a phone call telling her that Bernard had won an Alaskan cruise, but had never claimed it. Believing that he must have wanted the two of them to go, she decided to go anyway and asked her best friend Mildred to accompany her. At the last moment, Mildred backed out. Harriet, against the wishes of her children, decided to go alone. She boards the ship with Bernard’s ashes stored in an empty yogurt container and prepares to enjoy the trip. She intended to disperse the ashes somewhere in Alaska. Her friend Mildred’s son had driven her to the cruise line, and he had left a letter with her from his mom. He told her that his mom did not want her to read it until after she boarded the ship, and she complied. After reading the letter, Harriet discovered that she and Bernard had both seriously deceived each other. There were devastating secrets hidden in their pasts. She discovered that along with herself and Bernard, her best friend Mildred also had a heavy secret! Disturbed, even distraught, by the new information she had learned, she left for dinner to try and forget about it, became drunk and made a scene. She had to be removed from the dining room and escorted back to her cabin, but she had little memory of the evening when she awoke in the morning. However, she was in for a g surprise. Her daughter appeared out of nowhere. She had decided to take Mildred’s place and take the cruise with her. As mother and daughter bonded, they also had moments when they drew further apart. Their relationship had always been far from perfect. Harriet discovered that her children had been scheming together to take over her assets. As Caroline and Harriet revealed their secrets to each other, the ground beneath their feet was suddenly not so solid; this was not due to being on a ship in the middle of the ocean. Their world was erupting because of new information and revelations about their past and present. The story is a love story, in a unique way. It a story about a love that could survive betrayal and distance; it is a story about a love that became more apparent for both Bernard and Harriet, and even her children, after his death. There were moments of magical realism, mysticism or hallucinations; I was never quite sure which it was; was Harriet in the throes of episodes of dementia? She saw Bernard; she saw evidence of his presence in her home; she had conversations with Bernard and actual sightings of Bernard, after his death, on the cruise ship. Did he truly come back to help her, to reveal his love for her, or did Harriet work out her own guilt with her imaginings of his corporeal presence, even after he had been cremated? Did the conversations between Bernard and CTO Charmichael ever really happen, or did Harriet completely make them up out of whole cloth in her waking dreams?Although I was touched by the story, by its honesty and sincere presentation of the relationship between each of the individuals presented, who made mistakes but still maintained their dignity and character, still maintained a connection, even with a false façade, with those they loved, the ending left me hanging. I wanted to know how Harriet would have confronted Mildred when she returned home from the cruise. I wanted to know if she sold her house to help her son financially. If she did, where would she have settled? Did she have a premonition of her own death? However, Harriet simply dropped from the scene, and the answers to these questions remained unknown. Was her death too convenient? Because of my unanswered questions, I felt as if the book never ended for me; it felt incomplete.Susan Boyce did an excellent job narrating the story presenting each character so authentically and expressively that they could have walked out of the book and assumed human form. The author’s use of language and dialogue was filled with imagery which painted the characters so clearly that they appeared lifelike in my mind’s eye. Harriet, in particular, appeared to me in her old fashioned way of dressing, and her behavior made me smile.I recommend the book in either print or audio form because it is well written and presented and will be totally enjoyable in either format.
  • (4/5)
    Seventy-eight-year-old Harriet Chance, recently widowed, is finding it difficult to convince anyone that her deceased husband is still communicating with her. Then, as the subtle hints of his presence morph into complicated conversations, she decides to keep it all to herself long enough to see what the man has to say for himself. And she learns things about life – her life – that surprise her, shock her, and make her grow up before she loses the chance forever.Evison uses an all-knowing narrator to take Harriet on a tour of her own life. Sometimes the narrator writes about episodes from Harriet’s life; sometimes he speaks directly to Harriet about events that influenced and shaped her. All of it is done in pinball machine fashion (including game sound effects) so that the reader might bounce in one run from Harriet at age one, to Harriet in her thirties, to Harriet at seventy-seven, to Harriet in her twenties, and back to Harriet in the present, at seventy-eight. What might seem at first a rather jarring literary device works beautifully to develop Harriet Chance from what at first appears to be merely a comic fictional character into a fully-fleshed woman whom readers will long remember.This Is Your Life Harriet Chance! is a book about choices; crossroads with right and wrong turns; chances taken and not taken; and about making things right before it is too late ever to do it. It is about accepting responsibility for one’s actions. But it is also about forgiveness and moving on - even when you are the one who needs to be forgiven so that you can allow yourself to move on.Bottom Line: This Is Your Life Harriet Chance! is a very fine piece of literary fiction, a character study in which the author seems to find something good and something bad in each and every one of the members of his cast. They are just like the rest of us.
  • (4/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    After Harriet Chance's husband of over 50 years dies, she discovers that he has booked a cruise to Alaska for them to take and, impulsively (and against the wishes of her children), she decides to take it. At first she plans to take her best friend, Mildred. However, when Mildred backs out of the cruise at the last minute, Harriet decides to go on her own, thinking that the trip will give her a new lease on life at age 78.Of course, things do not go as planned. Th cruise becomes, in many ways, a reflection on her life: what it was, and what it was not, along with some disturbing revelations that occur on the way.Part comedy, part dysfunctional love story and part a bittersweet narrative on growing older, author Jonathan Evison has created a character who all women of a certain age will recognize and identify with - at least a little bit.

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  • (4/5)

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    After Harriet's husband of 55 years dies, she learns that he had arranged an Alaskan cruise. 78 years old, she sets off by herself and learns of a secret that her husband kept for 40 years.

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