Heroes of the Frontier

 
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I came to Dave Eggers later than most lovers of hip-lit, and I’m ashamed to say I still haven’t read What is the What, which the literati consider to be one of his most influential and important pieces in what is quickly becoming a widely acclaimed portfolio of books.

Like most of his books, his most recent one, Heroes of the Frontier, is a story that stays with you.

In Heroes of the Frontier, our protagonist is Josie, a single mother of two. Josie is in search of answers and a simpler way of living, and she thinks she’ll find it by taking her kids off the grid in Alaska in an RV. We learn that Josie seems to be running from everything: an ex, a failed business, remorse over advice she gave to a young man who ended up dying in Afghanistan, and the doldrums of life on a wheel.

As I pulled Heroes of the Frontier off my shelf to revisit it, I flipped to a sticky-noted page to see what golden nugget I would find:

Any given year you should expect certain things. You can expect to see some horrifying act of terror, for example. A new beheading of a man in orange is a shock and will make you want to never leave the house, but not if you have budgeted for it. A new mass shooting in a mall or school can cripple you for a day but not if you’ve budgeted for it. That’s this month’s shooting, you can say. And if there isn’t a shooting that month, all the better. You’ve come out ahead on the ledger. You have a surplus. A refund.

I love this, not because it is depressing as fuck, but because he’s pointing out to us that this is how society is becoming.

Josie is all of us. We all have regrets. We are all navigating a world that keeps throwing us curve balls. Even in Alaska, the hits keep coming as she and her children try to evade wildfires, an angry landlord, and actual bolts of lightning.

There are many moments in the book that shine, but one of my favorites is when Josie gathers a few musicians together to help bring the music in her head to fruition.

And that’s kind of what Dave Eggers is for me: a conductor of the crazy.

In 2009, I had just read Zeitoun at the recommendation of a co-worker. Eggers was going to be speaking at my local independent bookstore and I arrived at the event (early, as I always do) only to find hordes of bearded educators popping squats on the floor, cued up in anticipation, hydrating from their stickered water bottles, and (wait for it…) talking to each other!

Eggers masterfully navigated the event touching on all of the important hallmarks of our time: the importance of supporting our local independent bookstores, the necessity for real investigative journalism, and how the written word shall never die.  Maybe, I thought, reading Eggers is a little bit more than just reading and moving on to the next book; maybe when you read Eggers you belong to a community. You stand for something.

Eggers the man is legendary, Eggers the writer is a conductor.  He takes all these things that are going on in our world, in our minds, and he puts it out on paper in a way that is relatable and that makes us know we aren’t alone, it’s transcendent, masterful.

Eggers latest book, Heroes of the Frontier is a break from a 24-hour news cycle. Go to your local bookstore pick it up, get to your favorite coffee shop, and get that cozy seat by the fireplace. Maybe leave your cell phone at home. Go off the grid for a few hours, I highly recommend it.

 

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Thanks to  John-Mark Kuznietsov for the graphic.