In a time where the Celebrity Novelist is either writing about wizards or crime or else long dead, Dave Eggers stands out as one of the few, for lack of a better word, ‘serious’ authors plying his trade today. Since the publication of his excellent memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and the creation of McSweeney’s, The Believer and the 826 projects, he has found himself at the forefront of what must be considered the post-postmodern literary movement. Despite the title of his first book, Eggers works past irony and cynicism in favour of a sincere belief in some of the things a generation of writers tried to disprove – true human connection, some semblance of meaning in life, etc. etc.

His latest novel, Heroes of the Frontier, in very much tied up in such beliefs. The story revolves around Josie, an unhappily married (and now separated) dentist from Ohio and her attempts to flee her current unbearably bearable existence (ie. her job, her ‘invertebrate’ husband, the crushing social judgement which manifests as neighbourhood mothers) to find something more meaningful. Like many a contemporary dreamer, her idea is to escape to the boundless wilderness of Alaska, and so she rents a temperamental RV and drives her two children across the last frontier.

The son Paul, who is eight, is preternaturally calm and kind and in possession of “ice-priest eyes”, while his younger sister Ana is a bundle of reckless energy whose first thoughts upon seeing a new object are how to destroy it. Josie however is far less fixed, seeming to oscillate between opinions and outlooks, believing in something the one minute and finding it flimsy the next. It’s as though her character is a slowly melting icecap, the countless shattered pieces drifting outwards, lonely shards without context or meaning left to bob and shrink and get swallowed by the ocean. She herself is aware of this, and is driven by the urge to find solid ground on which to re-assemble her Self, though which pieces need saving is obscure to her, let alone the order or shape in which they belong. And if the world is an instruction manual, it is one written by sadist with a penchant for confusion.

“This could be the cause of all modern neurosis, she thought, the fact that we have no immovable identity, no hard facts. That everything we know is subject to change”

As such, large sections of the novel revolve around Josie’s moods swings, both in present and past, often aided and abetted by wine. Going from manic isn’t-the-world-beautiful highs to existential collapse at the drop of a hat, she is unable to comprehend any sort of bigger picture through the immediate view, which is unsurprising given the weight of responsibility that presses on her constantly. Paul seems to sense this, often looking at his mother dubiously, as though hoping the image of adult life that’s coming into increasing focus might be some sort of mirage, or temporary spell, something his mother can hurdle and forget, something he’ll never have to consider himself.

The trip is entirely without purpose yet also fundamentally purposeful, the moments of doubt and despair building into peaks of pure transcendental joy and life. Josie knows there is a certain futility in her attempt to escape reality, but she also comes to learn that perhaps, in spite of popular opinion, she is doing the right thing after all. This is Dave Eggers saying that maybe asking questions is more important than getting answers. Maybe a belief in the possibility of change and progress is worth more than anything else. Maybe attempting to escape is escape enough.

“Courage was the beginning, being unafraid, moving ahead, through small hardships, not turning back. Courage was simply a form of moving forward”

Here are some songs we think suit the novel nicely. Some are thematically relevant, some conjure a suitable sense of adventure and wide open space, others just seem Dave Eggers-y, and one has a band name which is impossible to leave out.

Tracklisting:

    1. When the Day is Fresh and the Light is New – The Wooden Sky
      2) Hope Springs (Night Version) / Psalm – Wilder Maker
      3) Visiting – Pinegrove
      4) Reckless Girl – This Frontier Needs Heroes
      5) Still Movin’ – Free Cake For Every Creature
      6) Something New – The Washboard Abs
      7) Every Time the Sun Comes Up – Sharon van Etten
      8) Alaskan Shake – Nap Eyes
      9) Alaskans – Volcano Choir
      10) Wildfires – Ohbijou
      11) Just to Feel Alive – Nadia Reid
      12) If I Could Write a Song – Brian S. Cassidy
      13) The Closest We Will Ever Be – Ola Podrida
      14) I Can Be Afraid of Anything – The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die
      15) Until I Open My Wings – Small Wonder
      16) Running With the Wolves – Cloud Cult

Heroes of the Frontier is out now via Knopf and Hamish Hamilton, and those interested can explore the Dave Eggers oeuvre on the ever-handy Goodreads.