Eowyn Ivey’s second novel, To the Bright Edge of the World, is an ambitious book. Set in the untamed Alaskan wilds at the end of the 19th century, the story follows the expedition of Colonel Allen Forrester, a decorated war hero, and his small group of men as they navigate a seemingly impassable river—while simultaneously exploring the challenges that face Forrester’s wife, Sophie, as she waits more than a year for her husband’s return. It’s a clever and fertile juxtaposition—an explorer’s struggles in the wide-open wilderness, and the struggles of his independent young wife back home, in the closed-off, socially restrictive world of 1880s Army barracks life. 

In one sense, Dave Eggers’s Heroes of the Frontier is a very recognizable novel—the ingenue in the new wilderness, trying to make sense of, and being buffeted about by, this brave new world. But Heroes is also a uniquely modern take on the old frontier genre: It is a fable without a moral, a pilgrim without progress, a series of adventures and nothing to be made of them. There are some real pleasures here but, for me, this book is interesting as much for what it includes as for what it leaves out.