Heroes of the Frontier

by Dave Eggers

Hardcover, 2016

Call number





Knopf (2016), Edition: 1, 400 pages


Josie and her husband have split up, she's been sued by a former patient and lost her dental practice, and she's grieving the death of a young man senselessly killed. When her ex asks to take the children to meet his new fiancée's family, Josie makes a run for it, figuring Alaska is about as far as she can get without a passport. Josie and her kids, Paul and Ana, rent a rattling old RV named the Chateau, and at first their trip feels like a vacation: They see bears and bison, they eat hot dogs cooked on a bonfire, and they spend nights parked along icy cold rivers in dark forests. But as they drive, pushed north by the ubiquitous wildfires, Josie is chased by enemies both real and imagined, past mistakes pursuing her tiny family, even to the very edge of civilization.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member gbill
Eggers’ protagonist in this novel is a flawed mother of two who takes her kids on an open-ended trip to Alaska to escape her ex-husband, legal troubles, and mainstream life in general. She’s thoughtful and likeable enough, but occasionally does things that are rather reckless and dangerous, probably earning the scorn of more than one reader. Where she’s going, even she can’t say. What I love about the book is its balance – there is introspection into relationships and life in middle age, great humor, and a few nuggets of wisdom, all without getting mired in what could otherwise have been clichés given the premise. The first chapter is fantastic and sets the tone, and the book does not let up from there. The scene where she and the kids go aboard a cruise ship with an old man to watch a magic show in which she gets sloppily drunk is priceless, as is the one much later in the book, when she jams with a bunch of local musicians. I laughed out loud when she emptied the clean-out of the RV, wondering “who could vouch for the end-to-end integrity of the shit cylinder?”, and later, on considering the tube, this very sly reference to Proust, it “containing so much remembrance of things passed”. Eggers really has a way with words, e.g. the five-year-old Ana being a “constant threat to the social contract”, and his writing is crisp and direct as always.

Warning, there are some spoilers in what follows… One truth his character arrives at, to love and accept others, culminates in a wonderful scene where her children take stones off her prone body one by one, giving her a feeling of levitation and release. She also believes firmly in the importance of being brave – brave enough to defy convention, to seek change, and to go on adventures – and that this is the most important thing to instill in children. Lastly, the ending is profound – in getting through a very scary thing, one which would have most people saying holy (bleep), I can’t believe I was stupid enough to have just done that – how wonderful it is that both her and her son are happy – happy! – with the experience, and that they’ve triumphed over what the world threw at them. If all of this sounds overly deep and possibly sappy, fear not, it’s delivered with a very deft touch – and one may think almost too deft, as readers may not ‘get it’. This is the 9th book of Eggers’ that I’ve read, and it’s right up there with his best work.

On America:
“She laughed at her own surprise at finding people like this here, in rural Alaska. What was she expecting? She had fled the polite, muted violence of her life in Ohio, only to drive her family into the country’s barbarian heart. We are not civilized people, she realized. All questions about national character and motivations and aggression could be answered when we acknowledged this elemental truth.”

On change:
“She was done, gone. She had been comfortable, and comfort is the death of the soul, which is by nature searching, insistent, unsatisfied. This dissatisfaction drives the soul to leave, to get lost, to be lost, to struggle and adapt. And adaptation is growth, and growth is life.”

On children, and parenting:
“She began to conceive a new theory of parenting, where the goal was not the achieving of a desired result. The object is not to raise a child for some future outcome, no! Times like these, together in the pines amid the fading light, as the kids run through the long grass, her son gravely teaching himself archery while her daughter tries to induce some self-injury, these moments alone were the object. Josie felt, fleetingly, that she could die having achieved such a day. Get to a place like this, get to a moment like this, and that alone is the object. Or it could be the object. A new way of thinking. Stretch some of these days together and that’s all one could want or expect. Raising children was not about perfecting them or preparing them for job placement. What a hollow goal! Twenty-two years of struggle for what – your child sits inside at an Ikea table staring into a screen while outside the sky changes, the sun rises and falls, hawks float like zeppelins. This was the common criminal pursuit of all contemporary humankind. Give my child an Ikea desk and twelve hours a day of sedentary typing. This will mean success for me, them, our family, our lineage. She would not pursue this. She would not subject her children to this. They would not seek these specious things, no. It was only about making them loved in a moment in the sun.”

On the power of music:
“Write a song – how long could it take? Minutes? Maybe an hour, maybe a day. Then sing the song to people who will love you for it. Who will love the music. Bring renewable joy to millions. Or just thousands. Or just hundreds. Does it matter? The music does not die. Sam Cooke, long gone, only dust now, was still with us, was now vibrating through Josie and was carving new neural pathways in her children’s minds, his voice so clear, a magnificent songbird coming through the radio and alighting on her shoulder, even here, even now, at nine o’clock, in this broken RV, somewhere between Anchorage and Homer. Though dead too soon, Sam Cooke knew how to live. Did he know he knew how to live?”

On online reviews and ‘vengeance’; this one made me reflect on being more even keeled:
“We live in a vengeful time. You didn’t get the orange chicken you ordered or the sticky rice? And now you’re already home? Meaning you’d have to drive all the way back to get the orange chicken and sticky rice you ordered? Injustice! And thus avenge. Avenge the proprietor’s crimes! This was our contemporary version of balance, of speaking truth to power. Avenge the proprietor on thy customer-review site! Right the imbalance! Josie had done it herself. Three times she’d done it, and each time it felt so good for two or three minutes, and then felt base and wasted.”

And this one, on just how spoiled the affluent are:
“Once it had been an actual place, a smallish town with an actual cobblestone square where children rode their scooters and were chased by tiny lamentable dogs, perversions of selective breeding, off leash and barking. Now the place was crowded, there was no parking, women in ponytails drove at dangerous speeds on their way to yoga and pilates, tailgating other drivers, honking, cheating at four-way stop signs. It had become an unhappy place.
The crime of the ponytail ladies was that they were always in a hurry, in a hurry to exercise, in a hurry to pick up their children from capoeira, in a hurry to examine the scores from the school’s Mandarin-immersion program, in a hurry to buy micro-greens at the new ivy-covered organic grocery, one of a newly dominant national chain begun by a libertarian megalomaniac, a store where the food had been curated, in which the women in their ponytails rushed quickly through, smiling viciously when their carts’ paths were momentarily waylaid.”

On a waterfall:
“When they got close, the volume was far greater than it had seemed from the path. For a moment the falling water seemed utterly sentient, falling with joyous aggression to the earth, spitefully suicidal. The spray reached them first, and they stopped, sat, and watched the waterfall’s ghostly white fingers. In the wall of mist, rainbows shot off like birds taking flight.”
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LibraryThing member c.archer
One thing about Josie; she is persistent-sometimes daringly so. I guess that's part of the reason for the title. Even as things go from bad to worse, Josie seems to evolve and grow before your eyes. It's a far stretch, but she does become a kind of hero in her own right.
This is not your standard adventure tale, but that's not what I would expect from this author. He writes books that will surprise and tantalize you with what is coming next. I was not able to get through the last pages fast enough. The end of the book was looming, but I had no idea how it would conclude. If you read it, don't hold the author to reality or common sense. There is a touch of the surreal in this story that will be better enjoyed if you just go with the flow.… (more)
LibraryThing member Alphawoman
As Melvin replies in As Good as it Gets when asked " How do you write women so well?
"I think of a man and I take away reason and accountability.”

I tried so many times not to be judgemental regarding Josie and her mothering skills but I failed. She is a train wreck in the parenting department.

To have an 8 year old child/adult like Paul to help her not endanger her offspring too badly enabled her to act like a neurotic fool. Poor Paul and his nonexistent childhood swallowed up by his mothers paranoia. How does someone with this faulty capacity for decision making become a dentist?

Over all I enjoyed the book and the emotions it brought out in me while reading. Not comical at all as I read in one review. Only chuckle I got was when she comes to in a hospital and the first words out of her mouth "is it cancer?"
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LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
Heroes of the Frontier, Dave Eggers, author; Rebecca Lowman, narrator
I have read several books by the author and have found them thought provoking, but this one is mind numbing! The book seems unsure of its purpose. Is it about disillusionment, relationships, parenting, responsibility, survival, medical malpractice, criminality, indiscriminate sex, greed, escapism, or any number of other subjects brought up in the book?
For me, the long and the short of it is this: A foolish professional woman, a dentist named Josie, has been sued by a patient who alleged that she failed to discover her cancer until it was too late. As a result, she lost her dental practice. She was forced to sell it to a friend to pay for damages to the litigious family.
The woman, Josie, had been in a long-term, relationship (unmarried), with a man she pretty much supported, who was and still is a deadbeat, but he is the father of her two children. This should give the reader some insight into her character. This man, Carl, who fathered her children, Ana, five years old, and Paul, 8 years old, has now decided that although he saw no logical reason to marry her, he wants to marry someone else. He would like the children to attend his wedding, and to avoid this, Josie takes off into the wilderness in an RV she rents from a man in Alaska. She has never driven one but lies and announces that she has even driven a bus. Her nose grows as the story does.
She breaks the law and lies with impunity. She sees suspicious behavior behind the actions of all she comes in contact with and judges herself harshly when anything goes wrong, but still, she often does not think before she acts. She seems a bit unstable as she makes more and more immature and foolish decisions. Without any plans, except for visiting a “sister”, she exposes herself and the children to frequent danger as the “powers that be” rain down one life threatening event upon another in her direction. She often leaves her children unattended, takes up with people and then questions her choices, when it is too late, drinks to excess, lies and breaks the law, as she and her family basically become squatters on properties they trespass. She believes that she is running from people chasing her, but is anyone really after her? She is not paranoid, but she is not mature or very stable, either.
The story made little sense to me and seemed to have no real direction, veering off into new territory at the whim of the author without relevance to the main thread. The catastrophic events Josie and her children were forced to face occurred too frequently and seemed contrived. I kept wondering if the earth would swallow them up the next time and perhaps then spit them out again. In the end, they seemed like fairy tale characters, landing on their feet each time, against all odds, and then embarking on more and more foolish journeys without any adult thought. The children seemed more mature than their mother.
There were some pretty gross and crude descriptions of some moments that the reader could really have done without. They added nothing, especially those concerning feces, unless it was included for shock purposes. They did serve to show how ill prepared and unaware Josie was of possible dangers as she embarked on her runaway journey. The author describes her as an educated woman since she is a dentist, but she doesn’t seem so, since she is unaware that lightening under a tree or near water is dangerous. It seems to be a fact we all learn during our first bad thunderstorm.
The conclusion was disappointing. I actually thought I had erred and not downloaded the book entirely! Was the ultimate message that Josie finally grew up, was it that with courage you could overcome adversity, was it that the world was spinning out of control, was it that everyone was pursuing greed except those in the wilderness of Alaska where they seemed to be living quieter lives without damaging the environment, was it that Nirvana does or does not exist? In fact, it seems that nature was doing a fine job of that on its own! I am sorry to say that the book was disappointing.
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LibraryThing member LynnB
This is the story of Josie, who is the queen of bad choices. The father of her children has left her to marry someone else; she has lost her dental practice in a lawsuit and feels responsible for the death of a young soldier. So, she takes her children (Paul, 8 and Ana,5) to Alaska to escape. This novel is partly a road trip and partly about a 40-something mom who is fleeing real or imaginary pursuers. It's an entertaining story....the kids might be a bit unbelievable, but Josie's character is well developed. I loved the ending, which can be interpreted in different ways, like many of Josie's perspectives along the way. Worth reading for sure.… (more)
LibraryThing member adrianburke
Not sure what to make of it. Perhaps it runs out of steam at the end - the musical epiphany and the challenge in the thunderstorm both seem different attempts at finishing a ragbag, picaresque kind of novel with Josie as a kind of Donna Quixote and her kids as Sancho Panzas. In places it needs trimming of Eggers type rants. But it was an undemanding read and I was happy to keep going with it.… (more)
LibraryThing member lindaspangler
quick read. followed somewhat ditsy woman who left her life and traveled to Alaska with her two kids. REally fun read. I liked her voice and her
LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
This is the 7th book that I have read by Dave Eggers. If you have never read him, then start with his first, the memoir " A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" which is his best. However, that being said, all of his books are pretty good. He has a way of creating specific characters that step outside the norm. In this case it is Jose, a 40 year old dentist who has lost her practice in Ohio to a patient that she failed to identify with having cancer(tong?). She has 2 children(8 and 5) who follow that very cute and smart persona that we see in small children in novels and movies(I have yet to meet these children). She leaves Ohio and takes her children to Alaska (their Dad is not married to Josie and is not reliable and in Florida marrying another woman). The relationship with father is important to the book. Basically, she is trying to escape and figure life out while subjecting her children to her unreliability and lack of great decision making. Now the fact that her character might not be believable did not take away from my enjoyment of the story. It was a good story and maybe there is something to be said for taking your kids off to a new life and seeing them grow as a result. I think parents(I am not one) may see this book differently. Eggers is a great author and even though this is less than his best, it is still very good.… (more)
LibraryThing member cuentosalgernon
An entertaining and highly-enjoyable bittersweet road-trip novel with three well-drawn, endearing main characters (Josie, a middle aged, ordinary woman, quite adept at making wrong choices, her calm and sensible 8-year old son, Paul, and her wild 5-year old daughter, Ana, a real living danger) that will linger in my memory.
LibraryThing member nbsp
In English Comp, one exercise was to keep a log of things we noticed about people, conversations overheard, etc. It gave me an exaggerated idea of how interesting people are but it was great fun. This novel seemed like a kitchen sink of ideas the author noted in his log, pulled together by an unconvincing plot. I have been an Eggers fan but this was a disappointment.… (more)
LibraryThing member Narshkite
A thoughtful and entertaining look at the core of our lack of satisfaction, escalating anxiety, and deteriorating sense of connection to others. That sounds depressing, but every gutting event or observation has a counter-balancing experience filled with hope, goodness and generosity. Eggers' burn down the house approach to recentering might be a little vitriolic but its also thoughtful and dramatic and engrossing. Worth the read for the description of Whole Foods and its customers alone, but there is plenty more.… (more)
LibraryThing member DKnight0918
Loved it, of course. Eggers has been a favorite of mine since high school. This book makes me want to travel to Alaska one day.
LibraryThing member honkcronk
I like Dave Eggers books . This story is about an Alaskan escape by a woman looking for a way out of her life.
Alaska is the place people go to find something different, or find yourself. I read some other reviews of this book which said that Alaska was not important to the story. I disagree- it is the perfect setting for a story of a family escaping their lives in the US... not really leaving the US but definitely finding something different in Alaska.

I listened to the audio version of this book while I was on vacation on the coast of Maine. It struck a note with me. I think the reading was very good and I laughed alot of the graphic beginning about all the trips to the bathroom.... hilarious on audio but a bit gross!
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LibraryThing member SallyCrosiar
It's hard to admire stupidity.
LibraryThing member bartt95
Very, very good!

I picked this up on a whim. I'd always wanted to read an Eggers book, and I'd been eyeing some of his works for some time, and when I saw that a new book of his was out I decided to go with it.

Heroes of the Frontier is a book about escaping: escaping your old life, escaping those people that filled you with frustration and bitterness, escaping regrets collected over years and years of living in a certain way when deep down you knew better and want more.

It's also a book about living through your children, of trying to make them become what you look for in the world and its people.

Josie, mother of Paul and Ana, takes her two children and flees to Alaska to travel with an RV. She doesn't know when she'll go back, IF she'll ever go back. Her ex-husband was a lazy, useless partner and father; her dental practice is taken from her by an embittered, cancer-ridden ex-patient. A young, promising boy named Jeremy took her encouragement as a reason to push through and enlist, only to die in Afghanistan. Her parents were involved in a drug-scandal and forced her to leave at 17, living in a house with an improvised foster mom and a sort of half-sister, troubled and angry. All this haunts her constantly, flashes around in her head, makes her incapable of enjoying anything for long, before an image appears in her mind that draws her back into herself.

She loves her children, Ana, a 5 year-old, otherworldly, destructive maniac, but also a child full of life and goodness, and Paul, 8-years old, too wise for his age, understanding, capable and well-behaved. Yet at the same time she feels as if chained, unable to live her life due to her constant responsibilities. Either way, Josie's world revolves around these children; they are essential to her. But they are also essential to the story; this book is not just the story of Josie but also of the growing up of her children, and the importance of competent but loose parenting.

As she travels around Alaska in a wreck of an RV, she meets people of all kinds, sees nature, wild animals and rivers and streams, basks in the sun, but all the while spirals around in her own neurotic mind. She rarely stays anywhere for long, swung around Alaska by moods. You experience everything that haunts her, that makes her incapable of lasting joy, but she somehow manages to take it all stoically, with a fantastic, dark type of humor.

When at first Alaska seems to be to her nothing more than the usual disappointment, it grows on her: the lifestyle grows on her, the independence and possibility grows on her, the people grow on her. And all the while her children bloom, grow up rapidly but wonderfully, learning more and more everday, and so Josie grows too, sometimes managing to let everything go, just for a little while, but nonetheless this provides a temporary but lasting possibility of relief.

While the wildfires spread and come ever closer, Josie comes closer to some kind of understanding, through her children, of how one can be brave and strong. The book is an ode to the state of Alaska, to its natural beauty and its people, but there's something more: one can find out how to live life in Alaska, how to become what you look for in others.
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LibraryThing member mojomomma
Josie is a lovable, but slightly addled character. She's left her partner, the father of her two children, lost her dental practice and "runs away" from her partner's wedding ceremony with the children to explore Alaska in an aging Winnebago. She reconnects with a woman she considers a sister, but runs away from that relationship, too. While traveling through remote Alaska, she encounters forest fire and storms and some strange people.… (more)
LibraryThing member queencersei
Forty one year old Josie is a mother of two small children who has had her life turned upside down. Her long time partner has left her, moved to Florida and announced that he is marrying another woman. A vengeful former patient successfully sued, causing Josie to lose her dental practice. Finding herself suddenly adrift Josie packs up her two kids and drives from Ohio to Alaska.
At first the trip to Alaska seems like an offbeat vacation for the small family. But between dodging wildfires, oddball strangers and a dwindling lack of funds, dangers both real and imagined begin to pursue Josie. With her children and RV in tow, Josie makes several questionable choices, taking her little family to the edge of civilization.

I wanted to like Heroes of the Frontier and it isn't a bad read per se. However the main character Josie is unfocused and unreliable. She treats her eight year old son more like a peer and makes a series of foolish choices. The story careens from one scene to the next, where overall, nothing much happens. As a reader I expected that her series of decisions would build up to something. But in the end I was left with nothing much. Heroes of the Frontier isn't a badly written story, but not one I could really recommend.
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