Insightful, richly entertaining look at a woman who, very late in the game, finds that life remains full of surprises.
It’s not often that a male writer gets inside the head of a female character without botching it somehow; Jim Harrison pulled it off in Dalva and maybe Daniel Defoe in Moll Flanders. Evison joins that short list with a yarn that, like his Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving (2012), seems a bit of a comic detour from his more serious earlier work (West of Here, 2011, etc.). The eponymous lead is wrestling with the fact that her husband of many decades has passed away, though she keeps seeing him; as the book opens, she’s working hard to convince her priest that “Bernard still lingered somehow in the earthly realm,” and certainly Bernard, “five decades of familiarity imprinted on her memory like a phantom limb,” continues to exercise some influence over his wife when she learns that he’s booked an Alaskan cruise for her, seemingly from beyond the grave. Naturally, Bernard haunts the halls of the cruise ship—but then, other unexpected persons turn up there, too, players in a seriocomic series of turns in which she discovers that her life with Bernard had plenty of corners that she never knew about. Harriet’s no patsy, but she has a way of blundering into mishaps, including a memorable run-in with security (“Do I look like a terrorist to you? For heaven’s sake, I’m Episcopalian!”). Evison allows his story to unfold at leisure, darting back and forth across the span of Harriet’s life and sometimes telegraphing what lies ahead: writing of (and to) her at the age of 30, for instance, he says of one to-be-revealed matter, “it will be 48 years before you will confide the information to anyone.” So Harriet, it seems, has secrets of her own.
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.