This is Your Life, Harriet Chance by Jonathan Evison


When I put this on my TBR list, I noted that Tony found it devastating for a humorous book. It does take a light-hearted approach to the disturbing story of Harriet. It is presented in the style of that old TV show, “This is Your Life,” and tells Harriet’s life by recounting moments throughout her life that are not in chronological order.

SPOILER ALERT! As is often the case I cannot write about this book without at least some revelations.

Harriet is 78 in the present and is about to go on an Alaskan cruise that she discovered was won by her husband Bernard before his death. She arranged to go with her best friend Mildred, but at the last minute Mildred declines to go with her. Mildred arranges for her son to give Harriet a letter to read after the cruise begins. In the letter Mildred confess her decades-long affair with Harriet’s husband. Most of the flashbacks to events of her life uncover yet another betrayal, beginning with her babyhood where she falls out of her bassinet during a work-related party her parents are having. She is mistreated by every important person in her life and in turn she betrays several of them.

While the method of bouncing around from one part of Harriet’s life to another appears to be random, the important revelations are clearly part of a plan that reveals Harriet one step at a time. One jarring note for me was how quickly the affair of Bernard and Mildred was left behind for other topics. This happened with another revelation involving her daughter Caroline. These revelations need some chewing over by those involved!

By the end of the book and the worst revelations were out there, I was happy to say goodbye to poor Harriet. The book reminds me of that observation:  “Life’s a bitch and then you die.” I noticed a very different take among the editorial reviews on the Amazon page describing this book:

“Fun and snappy . . . a breezy page-turner.” —Deseret News (Salt Lake City). Not planning to visit Salt Lake City anytime soon if that’s the prevailing view of life.

Jonathan Evison, This is Your Life, Harriet Chance, Algonquin Books, 2015, 304 pages. Available at the UVa and public libraries and from Amazon.

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