Monthly Archives: February 2016

Harriet Chance: A Rejoinder

25757334This has spoilers – plenty of them – so please don’t read if you haven’t finished or you are going to read This is Your Life Harriet Chance by Jonathan Evison.


OK, at this point I am understanding you know there are spoilers.   Read on if you wish.

Here’s the bottom line regarding Harriet: I finished it two weeks ago and I cannot seem to let go of the ending.   I don’t like it.  I have to accept it because that’s what was handed to me in the book, but by no means am I happy with it.  The ending was many things, but satisfying was not one of them.

My favorite thing about fiction is that stories can end any way you – the author – choose them to.  It’s made up.  It’s fiction!  You can make up the ending.  You can choose how much closure there will be or how little or none at all.  It is in your hands as the writer.

But as a reader – at least this reader – you may not leave me feeling unsatisfied and expect me to read something else of yours.

I loved the character of Harriet Chance.  I loathed her husband, son, daughter (until the end), her supposed best friend and her “uncle” of sorts.  We were intended to.  For all of that, I thank the author.  You grabbed me.  Your narrator was clever, fun and engaging and told the story well.

I felt such a kinship toward Harriet, I felt protective of her.  I allowed myself to care for her.

Then, near as I can tell, the author stopped writing.  Or so it felt.

Like I said, with fiction you can end it any way you want.  But for Harriet to have died without confronting her little shite of a son or Mildred just once, to me, was unforgivable.

She didn’t have to tell them off.  She didn’t have to say anything.  She could have just faced them and thought as she pleased.  As the reader, the narrator will have shared with us how she felt.  Hell, the unthinkable and craziest of circumstances could have occurred…that’s right, she could have forgiven them.

Harriet’s death left me feeling flat.  There were so many directions that could have been taken, but I feel the easy way out – death without disagreement, closure and/or peace – was chosen.

Yes, real life has heartbreaking finishes that are not fair.  Not everything in life has the closure we want it to.  Sometimes those we love die without getting to do what they want or say how they feel.  But in fiction, all of that is in the control of the author.

This author chose not to give a satisfying ending.

Listen, Jonathan Evison writes beautifully.  He does.  He is a terrific storyteller who has successfully written a character that I (a) allowed myself to care about and (b) who has stayed with me for weeks after finishing the book.

All in all those are great things, wouldn’t you agree?  But the difference between a book like This is Your Life Harriet Chance and, say, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry or A Man Called Ove is this: a sense of satisfaction that someone you love finds peace in the way THEY believe peace is had….not how we may interpret it, but how they do.

Maybe Harriet did find peace, up in the air, in the chopper, as she took her last breaths.  But if she did, then I contend that peace was not well defined to me.

Evison is a beautiful writer who created memorable characters; just not a satisfactory ending.