Heroes of the Frontier: A Novel by Dave Eggers (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016. 400 pp)
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Dave Eggers attended the University of Illinois but dropped out to take care of his younger brother in the wake of his parent’s death. These experiences are chronicled in Eggers’ best-selling memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. In addition to published works, he has founded McSweeney’s, an independent publishing house, and 826 National, a nonprofit writing and tutoring center for kids 6-18 in urban areas across the nation.
Whenever my family attends a social gathering, I often find myself equally present and aloof. I engage in conversation, attempt witticism, hope to be a contributor to the small community.
And yet, I’m not completely in the moment. I have what you could consider “Dad Brain.” As long as my boy is running around and exploring his environment, I have a section of my consciousness devoted to my son’s wellbeing. The goal of Dad Brain is to engage simultaneously in conversations with friends/family AND curb all possible calamities. Falling vases, choking on hot dogs, running into kitchen island corners: everything is fair game for the illustrative imagination of Dad Brain. So, next time we hang, feel free to explore the political nuance of our current climate, just know I’m sizing up your media console and wondering if I’ll be able to grab my boy before a television falls on him.
Given Dad Brain, Heroes of the Frontier was a difficult read. Let me explain.
The Great White North
Telling the story of a single mom, fleeing Ohio as a failed dentist practice and away from a deadbeat dad of her two children. Josie travels to Alaska with her wise eldest son Paul, and her firecracker daughter, Ana.
“Carl had no idea she had taken the children out of Ohio. Almost out of North America. And he could not know. And what could better grant her invisibility than this, a rolling home, no fixed address, a white RV in a state with a million other wayward travelers, all of them in white RVs” (4)?
Renting an RV with the most basic of plans to meet up with an old friend who lives on the outskirts of civilization, Josie travels with her young children, jumping from RV park to RV park, avoiding late-summer wildfires and spending too much money on tourist food.
“They wanted eighty-two dollars. With a tip she would be paying a hundred dollars for a pizza, two cookies and three glasses of wine. This was Alaska. It looked like a cold Kentucky but its prices were Tokyo, 1988” (103).
Work On Your Parenting
As Heroes of the Frontier unfolds, the reader discovers Josie’s complicated past and the liberating nature of this trip for her and her children.
And yet, Josie’s laissez-faire attitude and parenting style conflicts with my Dad Brain. Consistently and likely planned by the author, Josie makes poor mistake after poor mistake, endangering her children in the process. And yet, Eggers provides a thesis of sorts for this alternative approach to parenting, that in freedom and flight, formation might happen.
“That only having left could she and her children achieve something like sublimity, that without movement there is no struggle, and without struggle there is no purpose, and without purpose there is nothing at all. She wanted to tell every mother, every father. There is meaning in motion” (363).
But ultimately, what’s freedom worth if it endangers the people you love? Nevertheless, Heroes of the Frontier is a solid addition to Eggers collection.
Verdict: 3 out of 5