Hello, friends! Today I am so excited to share about a new-to-me author that I have discovered this month. Jonathan Evison’s book, This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!, is a book that I listened to while tackling my meal prep for the week and it was absolutely charming in every way. If you are into audiobooks, the narrator did such an incredible job on this one! As soon as I finished it, I emailed Jonathan to see if he could share more about it with me. He graciously is joining us today and after researching more about him and his books, I am just so anxious to read another one, in particular, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, which he told me would really resonate with my mom readers!
Our must-reads list for the month will be out on Friday, but I couldn’t wait until then to tell you about this incredible book.
There is so much beautiful layering in this book that I just couldn’t put it down! 78-year-old Harriet discovers that her husband had won an Alaskan cruise before his passing and, with an expiration date looming on the prize, she decides to take that cruise with her best friend. When her best friend unexpectedly bails on her, Harriet finds herself on a boat out to sea, but she isn’t alone thanks to her husband’s visits.
We grow to know Harriet in a unique way as chapters alternate with a, “This is Your Life,” game show theme and we jump along the timeline of Harriet learning more about all of the life experiences that have shaped her, the people who have betrayed her, how she was treated when she was a child, how she felt as her marriage and parenting were failing, and what it was like for her to care for a husband who mentally was no longer there.
The book twists and turns, secrets are revealed and an unexpected guest joins Harriet on the cruise. It was a beautiful story that makes you consider what your own, “This Is Your Life,” show might look like- with all the good and the bad moments in it.
I am giving this book 5 out of 5 stars and am so excited to hear that it will be coming to the big screen!
Grab your coffee and let’s settle in with Jonathan Evison today as we chat about his incredible new book!
In your interview with NPR in September, you stated that you originally had written the story with Harriet having these flashbacks looking back on her life while brewing tea or gazing out the window, but then came up with the concept to mimic, “This is Your Life,” to bring these flashback moments to life. How did the idea of making these flashbacks to resemble the show, “This is Your Life,” come to you?
Really, it just arrived out of thin air, born of necessity. The narrative was too linear. Harriet needed a counterpoint. Since this was a novel about memory, and reflection, and association, all non-linear processes, this was a perfect opportunity to jump around in Harriet’s life. I liked the idea of Harriet being presented with her life at some distance.
As a male in his forties, the way that you capture the voice of a 78 year-old Harriet is so beautifully done and never feels forced, which is a true showcase of your incredible writing talent. How did you develop that voice for Harriet? Did you channel someone you knew or was it a collective voice of women this age that shaped Harriet’s perspective?
I wanted Harriet to be an everywoman of her generation, but yes, she was informed by a number of women in my life. I was raised almost exclusively by women. As I acknowledge at the end of the book, I wanted to honor the courageous women who nurtured me, educated me, disciplined me, sacrificed for me, suffered for me, and never forsaken me; my mom, my grandma, my sisters, my wife, and my third grade teacher, to name a few. The women who have often settled for less, the women who’ve never quite gotten their fair share, who have soldiered on in the face of inequity, frustration and despair, who have forgiven beyond reasonable measure, absorbed beyond reasonable expectation, and given, given, given with no promise of recompense. I wanted to thank them with this portrait of one woman, inspired by all of them, from the moment of her conception, to her last breath. In terms of getting inside Harriet’s head, it’s mostly a matter of getting out of my own way.
The mother and daughter dynamic that you shape between Harriet & Caroline eerily resembles so many mother & daughter relationships I know. The strain that they each feel towards one another, the competition, and that ability to just take everything the wrong way was really well developed. Why do you think this dynamic was so important to Harriet’s story?
In my first novel, All About Lulu, I explored the father/son dynamic, which in my experience dealt with the implacable distance between father and son, and trying to bridge that distance. Conversely, when I consider the mother/daughter relationships that have informed my life, there seems to be an uncomfortable proximity between both parties, as if they both understand each other all too well. Where the father/son dynamic sometimes seems awkward, the mother/daughter dynamic seems tense. Really, I have no idea what accounts for this, it’s just something I’ve observed.
There are some truly dark moments for Harriet as Bernard’s health begins to decline. You really pull back the curtains on what it would be like to care for someone with Alzheimer’s and the physical & mental drains on their caregiver especially when they haven’t been an incredible spouse before their mind fails them. There are moments where Harriet really wants to inflict pain on Bernard for the pain he is putting her through. When Harriet realizes the secrets Bernard keeps, she really is angry that she had to bear it all alone even more. Were these scenes difficult for you to write? Do you think Bernard deserved Harriet?
It’s always difficult for me to make my characters suffer, but it’s what I do. I love them dearly, and I’ll do everything within my power not to forsake them, but my job is to report on the human experience, and that means pulling the curtains back and laying them bare. I’ve been a caregiver my whole life one way or another, so I know firsthand about the burnout, along with the rewards. As to whether Harriet deserved Bernard, I’d say very few of our relationships are predicated on what we deserve. Generally, they’re more about what we’re willing to accept. That said, nobody deserves Alzheimer’s.
I have a sweet spot for the elderly and I truly mean that! I am finding that the appreciation for them grows as I grow older and realize the beauty in their stories. You have said that your characters are usually marginalized by society in some way. You even share through this story how Harriet feels invisible as she gets older. How do you think we can work to not marginalize the elderly as people and help them feel visible?
I think it’s already happening. The Baby Boomers are getting old, and they’ve got disposable income. It’s impossible for advertisers and marketers to ignore them, like they ignored the elderly of the Greatest Generation, whom they viewed as too “brand loyal,” and set in their ways. The best way not to be marginalized in America is to be attractive to advertisers.
You have attributed a lot of your success to independent bookstores and their embrace of your talents. Why do you think their support has helped so much with the sales of your books? For other writers out there, were there any particular strategies involved to get them to back you for successful sales?
Nothing moves books like word of mouth. When you figure in the exponentials, personal recommendations go further than big newspaper reviews or advertisements. And at the end of the day, nobody connects writers to readers like an independent bookseller, who is likely not selling books in an effort to accumulate wealth.
I understand that you enjoy a little booze with your book readings which I love since many can feel so stiff and formal. What’s your favorite drink to sip while sharing your books?
Whatever you got, twice.
Although I knew of, “This is Your Life,” I have actually never seen an episode of it. Do you have a favorite episode of the show, “This is Your Life,” that you could recommend that we check out?
I generally remember the show and its concept from seeing it a few times in syndication when I was a kid. They call it the original reality show, but it was pretty schmaltzy, really. I intentionally skewed Harriet’s “host” much darker and more penetrating than Ralph Edwards, the host of This is Your Life, which was all pretty orchestrated toward a warm and fuzzy ending.
(Selena Gomez shares a photo on set on Instagram for The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving)
I understand that your novel, “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving,” is coming out in 2016 starring Selena Gomez, Jennifer, Ehle, & Paul Rudd. Are you involved with writing the screenplay for this and how excited are you to see this book come to life?
I was not involved in the writing or production, though I consulted a little bit on set, and appeared in a scene, which was a lot of fun. Everybody involved was extremely gracious. And yes, I’m very excited for the story to reach a new audience. Harriet Chance is also in the early stages of development at Focus Features. I’m tickled pink that film people want to share my stories, and pay me for them.
If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (we list it with all the recommendations over the year HERE)?
One book, seriously? This question could keep me up all night! My recommendation is that you not be afraid to read outside of your comfort zone, because you never know what’s going to change your life.
You can connect with Jonathan Evison on Facebook or through his website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!
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