Anyone looking for a “coming-of-old-age” story this fall can find this new-again trend in “This is Your Life, Harriet Chance!” by Jonathan Evison. At 6 p.m., the author and his latest book will appear at Square Books.
The tour revolves around “This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!,” a tale of an elderly widow who takes a cruise to Alaska in honor of her recently deceased husband. The book is a “coming-of-old-age” story, a phrase used by Evison to describe Harriet Chance’s journey as a widowed, aging woman.
“When I was seventeen years old, I lived in a senior citizen motor court with my grandmother, who was an agoraphobic. I was her only caregiver. The whole camp was filled with elderly women who were out-living their husbands. This is in a world where the elderly are marginalized, no one advertises towards them. But these women were re-inventing themselves after their husbands died. They were adopting new political and religious ideologies,” Evison said. “Old people are generalized so much, and you always hear these sayings like how you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. That’s not what I found at all. I remember being so impressed with their resilience and how much they were teaching themselves and other people…Harriet Chance represents all of that. It’s never too late to grow, never too late to make mistakes, never too late to forgive.”
Evison conveys this message by highlighting Harriet’s relationship with her estranged daughter and her late husband, both of whom haunt her in very different ways. Time-wise, the story follows her after her husband’s death and through the cruise she and her daughter end up taking on his behalf. The reader is also introduced to the rest of her life through flashbacks written from the perspective of an alternate, younger Harriet. The book contains chapters in the present and chapters containing flashbacks to demonstrate the progression of Harriet’s life and personality, both before and after her husband dies.
“I think of that part of the book as an alternate Harriet telling her story,” Evison said. “This voice is almost like a conscience that prods and pushes her and tells the stories that helped her become the person she is now. That voice is like your conscience because it holds you to your own faults and flaws too.”
“This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!” is driven by Harriet’s indomitable and compassionate personality. Her efforts to forgive people like her restraining husband and estranged daughter are endearing, but her strength and determination are impressive, such as her pursuit of the cruise itself after her best friend flakes out.
“Every single day of my life, something happens during the day that will inform my writing, something I see or hear. It forces me to be awake to all those possibilities. Every bad girlfriend, every bad job, it’s the knowledge that I can repurpose this, I can relive it and make it into something better. There really is no ‘worst thing’ about writing. It’s something I need to do. I’d be doing it even if I wasn’t being published. And it helps with the kids, to have a career,” Evison said on his process of creating worlds and characters like Harriet Chance.
This will be Evison’s first visit to Oxford’s Square Books.
“I’m super excited,” Evison said. “I have friends who have toured here and they’ve told me what an amazing scene it is. I specifically requested that Oxford be a stop on this book tour.”