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Etta and Otto and Russell and James

     by Hooper, Emma

Etta and Otto and Russell and James

Etta is eighty-two years old when she decides to walk over two thousand miles, across Canada from her home in Saskatchewan, to see the ocean. She writes a brief note to her husband Otto and sets off from their farm heading East with only her boots, a rifle, letter writing material, and a few sundries. Their neighbor Russell, a friend since childhood, suspects that Etta has gone but does not know where. When he finds out, he makes a pilgrimage of his own based on the love he has always had for Etta. Meanwhile, Otto waits at home and busies himself - first by learning to bake from the recipe cards Etta left for him, then by crafting papier-mâché sculptures from the piles of newspaper he discovers at Russell's house. As their story shifts back in time, the trio's history is revealed. Will Etta defy age, infirmity, and her failing memory to reach her destination? Will Otto and Russell each find their own journey? Written partially in letters, their stories weave together like a tapestry up to the final page. 

With a hint of magic realism, this memorable debut is both tender and bittersweet. The writing style is lyrical and rhythmic, echoing Etta's own footsteps on her journey. The author captures her Canadian backdrop perfectly. Those who enjoyed The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce should give this book a try. Readers willing to suspend their disbelief will be rewarded with a quirky, but satisfyingly redemptive, novel.

Reviewed by cs, 01/15. Other reviews by cs.