This, for me, was a quick little read. It's an unusual book and I'd be inclined to recommend it.
The novel tells the story of Harriet Chance, seventy-eight year old widow who, in the midst of her grieving, finds out that her husband, Bernard, had won a cruise to Alaska but he had not told her about. A decision is laid out before Harriet-- take the cruise or not take the cruise?
Against the wishes of most everyone in her life, and maybe even her own better judgement, Harriet does take the trip. And if that were all there were, I might not have enjoyed it. However, the novel is told like the old game show "This is Your Life" and Harriet's chapters are divided from third person present (at 78) to other chapters which are second person and have a tone like the game show host. I like how this is done. I found it to be engaging and interesting.
I probably shouldn't have liked the character of Harriet but I did. She was flawed but funny. In some ways, she was a victim but in others, she was an ass. It's hard to know sometimes if the overarching "game show" host is her conscience or God, or what-- and so it becomes difficult to consider some of the things she does-- and that are done to her-- and determine what, if any, control she had over her life. It left me with questions.
Now, I have one tiny criticism but if you don't like to know ANYTHING about a book, then you should just read the book and read no further. This isn't a huge spoiler, it's something you learn in the first 20 pages.
I was bothered a bit by the character of her late husband-- he keeps literally popping in, "visiting" her. Now, I'm someone who likes my fantasy to be fantasy and my realism to be realism. And this book is largely realism but she's visited by the ghost or spirit of a dead man? Well, I suppose I can get behind that. Dickens "A Christmas Carol" does that, right? And, I think if Harriet just had moments when she sees him or talks to him and he's talking back, that would all be fine.
YET, it's not as simple as that. There are two or three (I believe three) chapters when we see Bernard in the afterlife, talking to the CTO (whatever that means, it's not explained) about how he is forbidden to go see Harriet. I found this part of the book off putting. If it's Harriet's story, why must it be muddled in by her husband? Why can't it JUST be Harriet Chance's life? Why must Bernard stick his ass in it?
When I was in graduate school, my thesis advisor once called Karen Russell's "Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Werewolves" trick literature. I don't necessarily disagree with that assessment. It's a sticky middle ground-- what's magical realism? What is acceptable in "realistic" fiction? And I think had we forgone the chapters where we see Bernard in the afterlife, it might be a much better book for me-- I could put all this together as part of her understanding of life. And perhaps that's how I should even view the afterlife chapters. However, this was the only part of the novel that bothered me. If you like Karen Russell, then you'll probably have no issue with this book.
Again, it's a fun read, and a quick one. I do recommend it and give it 3.75 kittens out of 5. I'm not going for 4 because of that whole "afterlife" aspect.
*Another frugal read-- thank you library!