Heroes of the Frontier

It's tempting to describe Dave Eggers's Heroes of the Frontier as a story about a woman who goes crazy. The novel begins with Josie having already taken her kids to Alaska on a whim, with no plans, little money and only a vague idea as to why they've traveled north in the first place. What follows instead is a bittersweet depiction of what it means to be a parent, and how a thirst for adventure can sometimes be a cry for help.

Heroes is a picaresque novel, following Josie and her children as they drive through Alaska during a particularly bad rash of wildfires. They stay in RV parks, squat in abandoned mines, and attempt to find meaning in their limited interactions with other people. As their travels prove increasingly fruitless, Eggers (A Hologram for the King) keeps a cool hand, never writing Josie with a modicum less respect even as it becomes clear that she's making terrible decisions for her and her children. By the time the three are thrust into real danger, the novel has lulled the reader into thinking it isn't much different than what's come before. It's a neat magic trick, and a testament to Eggers's skill.

Although it takes places in the vast expanse of nature, Heroes is a small book. Josie's children dart in and out as a narrative chorus, but her innumerable failures are the meat of the novel. And in that way, it tenderly portrays a woman who tried, knowing at least that was something. --Noah Cruickshank, marketing manager, Open Books, Chicago, Ill.

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