Heroes of the Frontier

by Dave Eggers

Heroes of the Frontier CoverLet’s talk briefly about gender in writing. (I’m hoping I can broach this subject in a way that doesn’t sound ignorant.) At this time, I’m specifically concerned about how the gender of the author relates to narrators and protagonists. You see, whether an author focuses on characters who share their gender or not, the writer’s gender seems to come forth in the writing. Whether this is due to stylistic choices or an author’s perspective that’s made apparent, I couldn’t say, but books written by men often sound as though they are, and vice versa. In attempting to come up with exceptions to the rule, the book that immediately jumped to mind was Anakana Schofield’s Martin John, as well as some others where a female author stepped effectively into a male’s shoes. (There are probably reasons for this involving a historical sexism in literature, the domination of male literature, where women had to fake being men and direct their writing at men in order to be taken seriously, though I don’t think now’s the time to delve into that.) The reason this seems particularly topical to me is that Heroes of the Frontier is the first case I can think of where the opposite was true––at least within my reading ––where a male author wrote convincingly from a female perspective, and I found that fact at least a bit interesting.

Of course, where this stood out enough for me to feel the need to comment on and it adds a measure to this book’s success in its seeming authenticity, that alone wouldn’t be enough to make Heroes of the Frontier anything more than a passing interest. Luckily, however, Eggers’ story has a lot more going for it. After losing her dental practice to a litigious patient, splitting up with the father of her children, and convincing herself of her implication in another patient’s death, Josie runs away to Alaska with her son and daughter. They set off in a precarious RV without a destination in mind, on a search for bravery, sincerity, and meaning.

Eggers’ writing is on point. He peppers Josie’s thoughts and observations with plenty of fantastic word usage mixed with acerbic wit to make her not only a jerk, but an endearing jerk. In this way, even when it becomes clear that she’s not necessarily a model citizen, the reader––this reader, at least––never could fault her for anything. The author then takes this great character and has her interact with other interesting, realistic, flawed, and quirky people throughout. The careful writing style shared with many of the greats, where significant details are given out leisurely and without ceremony, works to the benefit of the story’s pacing. Add in a consistent, effective, and seamless transition between strong emotions throughout the story––often hopping directly from hilarious to depressing and back again––and we’re left with something special.