By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Jonathan Evison
Narrated by: Susan Boyce
This is a story for those who have reached a certain age. Though written by a man, it is narrated by a woman. In some respects, that is a weakness. Having been written by a man, it may distort the measure of a woman’s life. However, Jonathan Evison offers an excellent representation of what life and death looks like to a man. The mistakes some men make in life are legion, both as a parent and husband.
Evison speculates on an afterlife that says humans either die into nothingness or go to a place of peace and reconciliation. Those are the only options in Evison’s story.
The options are extreme but can be ameliorated by a gate keeper’s decisions. However, if you violate rules for personal appearances to those left behind, you are doomed to the first extremity, nothingness. Evison’s husband and father’ character chooses to violate the rules; in part because of his anguished guilt for living a selfish life. It seems a penance he must pay to his wife, mistress, and children.
What makes Evison’s story good is the truth of what foolish, selfish men do in their lives. Though life is ephemeral and temporal or spiritual, many mistakes are made, both moral and ethical. There is the horrid obsession of men with little girls described in Nabokov’s “Lolita”. There is the vacuous life of Richard Ford’s main character in “The Sportswriter”. There is Russell Banks’ depiction of a morally bankrupt man/boy who prostitutes himself in “Lost Memory of Skin”. Putting aside these extreme examples, Evison tells a story of the more common variety of male transgressions. His observations ring true to listeners of a certain age.
Most men will see themselves in aspects of Evison’s story. Men who cheat on their wives. Men who use work as an excuse for family neglect. Men who fail to take responsibility for helping raise their children. Men who demean their wives because they undervalue their contribution to life’s fulfillment. Men who neglect their wives because of self-absorption.
Evison notes many faults in the lives of women in his story but having been written by a man, his objectivity is suspect. On the other hand, women do cheat on their husbands. Women do neglect their children. Women do drink out of boredom with house work and social isolation. Women do demean their husbands because they undervalue their contribution to life’s fulfillment. Women do neglect their husbands because of self-absorption.
Evison touches every human being’s faults in “This is Your Life, Harriet Chance”. No one is exempt from human failing. Being of a certain age makes Evison’s story enlightening and entertaining. Enlightening because a listener knows they are not alone. Entertaining because a listener will enjoy Evison’s perspective on life’s journey.