Harriet Chance is a widow nearing 80 whose husband died a few months before from Alzheimer’s. She gets a call from a cruise company telling her that her husband booked a cruise to Alaska for two. At first, she has no intention of going, but then she decides to take her best friend, Mildred.
Her friends and family are a little concerned, because she claims she is being haunted by her husband, Bernard. Harriet is a little worried that they want her to enter the retirement community where Mildred lives. She loves her home and doesn’t want to leave. Besides, Bernard is haunting her.
When Mildred’s son arrives to pick Harriet up for the cruise, she learns that Mildred isn’t coming after all. Instead, Dwight gives her a letter to open on the ship. Harriet isn’t going to like what it says.
Told in a way that is supposed to remind us of the old TV show, “This Is Your Life,” the novel skips backward and forward to scenes from Harriet’s ordinary-seeming but painful life. This narrative technique is anchored by the story of the cruise, which is told linearly.
I found this novel touching, although in some ways the narrative style creates distance from the story. It’s a serious story told as if it’s a comedy, with bumbling, repentant Bernard as a chorus in ghost form.