NEW YORK — The latest stop on Dave Eggers’ long-running fictional tour: Alaska.
Eggers’ “Heroes of the Frontier,” which comes out July 26, tells of a single mother from Ohio who flees to Alaska with her young son and daughter in the wake of financial and personal disaster.
Josie is a dentist forced to sell off her practice after being sued by a former patient. Meanwhile, the father of her children is increasingly unreliable and she is haunted by guilt for encouraging a young patient to join the Marines, only to have him be killed in the war in Afghanistan.
“Heroes” is a story of both escape and entrapment. Josie may dream of being “reborn in a land of mountain and light,” an adventure, but will instead confront a landscape of fear and menace and learn that she “didn’t need to find humans of integrity and courage. She needed to make them.”
The 46-year-old Eggers is a resident of the Bay Area, the setting for his acclaimed memoir and debut book “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.”
In a recent email interview, Eggers discussed the settings for his books, some common themes and how the American past connects to his new book.
Q: How did the basic narrative develop and why set it in Alaska?
A: With “Heroes of the Frontier,” I started taking notes about Josie back in 2011. I knew I wanted to write about a dentist who had two kids, the father of whom was more of a useless appendage than a man. Somewhere down the line, maybe two years into the note-taking process, I had the idea of putting her in Alaska. There’s an unspoken assumption, I think, that Alaska is full of strong, self-reliant, plain-spoken people ... and Josie wants to be among people like that.
In “Heroes” in particular, I wanted Josie and her kids to be repeatedly challenged by their surroundings, and to get stronger as a result.
Q: The book has classic American themes of flight and adventure but at times also seems like a dark and frightening take on life on the open road. Your thoughts?
A: Because Josie is alone with two very young kids, she’s often facing dangers real and imagined. There’s also a hundred or so wildfires burning throughout the state, so there is some very real peril for a person meandering through the state without a plan and without a friend.
Q: For novels, do you often travel to places with the conscious thought of writing about them or does that decision happen in retrospect?
A: I spent some time in Alaska about three years ago, without any intention of writing about it. But I had this Josie character in my head at the time, and it made sense that a character setting out on an epic journey would find herself in Homer.
Q: Do you see your work as a kind of continuing series about life worldwide in the 20th/21st century? Do you see a thread running through?
A: In some ways, I was hoping with “Heroes of the Frontier” to examine the American psyche, and our connection, if there still is one, with our pioneer past. Josie and her kids don’t seem to have anything in common with the heroes of the frontier of the past, but then again, maybe they do. Maybe there’s something in the blood that connects an American dentist with the explorers, thieves, cowboys, settlers, winners and losers in American history.