1176 Road trip of change and chance
The List of Last Chances
by Christina Myers
Halfmoon Bay: Caitlin Press, 2021
$22.95 / 9781773860596
Reviewed by Myshara Herbert-McMyn
The List of Last Chances by Christina Myers is a wild adventure across the endless and fascinating country of Canada. Our two protagonists—Ruthie and Kay—are hilarious in their encounters and differing experiences. While Ruthie prefers to stay comfortable and believe what she’s been told by the people in her life, Kay’s life has been lived in the moment. Naturally their differing perspectives mean they have differing priorities for the road trip. Kay’s list complicates things further—how could they possibly drive across Canada in less than two weeks, checking off all the absurd things that Kay put on her list on their way?
The List of Last Chances came to me at an interesting point in my life. Though my life is nothing like Ruthie’s, I found the theme of perspective prodded my brain into considering my own circumstances. Change is hard — and the biggest changes always show up like fate when you least want but most need them. Ruthie wants nothing more than to continue to wallow in the wine-soaked haze that has dominated her life for the last six months, but the universe—and Kay—have other plans.
As many of us experience from time to time, Ruthie has fallen stagnant in parts of her life. She no longer has adventurous thoughts that bring her away from the normal, boring life she’s fallen into. Her friend Kay, a lovely foil for Ruthie, provides the introduction to the theme of perspective. The catalyst for both the plot and the theme of gaining perspective is the moment that Kay produces the titular list, which contains requests like:
#10. Visit the cottage at Sand Bay again
#11. Visit Drumheller
#13. Go dancing
#18. Visit a big XXX store and buy something fun
Though Ruthie doesn’t think the list is important, Myers soon reveals it to be crucial for both Ruthie and Kay in their journeys. Each item they cross off brings them closer and closer to reaching Vancouver—and the places they were meant to be.
I recently learned a new way of thinking about themes. The theme of a novel is the lesson that the main character must learn by the end of the story. It’s usually stated near the beginning by another character. Ruthie’s friend Jules thinks the lesson is in perspective. I love these kinds of stories—they carry a relatable hope. The fantasy novels I read normally have hope the size of kingdoms, but there is something so much more satisfying in a story that hands out hope in a size that fits each of us. It helps us to see the interconnectedness that binds us all together. The theme in The List of Last Chances pairs well with hope. It’s difficult to see the hope in something without being shown a new perspective. People who can explain their point of view, like Kay, help to broaden horizons and point towards fresh paths that were obscured before.
Ruthie and Kay have the luck of being stuck in a car together on a lengthy road trip. For me, this as a prime time to get to know someone more deeply; some of the most important conversations of my life have happened while confined to a car for a long duration. This was the part of the blurb that drew me to The List of Last Chances.
I was not disappointed. The raw emotions of both women on the road trip bring a strong aspect of realism to the characters. My personal favourites were the moments of witty banter brought out by Kay, who, full of life and wonder, brings her maturity into all her interactions with Ruthie. Even those moments of banter are fraught with life advice that was both relevant and unwelcome.
My favourite insight was this: driving west through Canada, Ruthie recalls that “the country grew and stretched under us — the farther we drove, the more there was ahead, it seemed” (p. 19). This is an excellent metaphor for broadened horizons. The farther we travel down the road of life, the more options open to us and the more important it is to take the chances we can while we’re there. Canada is vast and full of nature. The chances we have in this country are endless if we take advantage of them when they’re offered.
The List of Last Chances is a startling road trip through emotions and preconceived notions. I enjoyed learning about a different person—I think that’s one of the greatest joys of reading. I embraced my own chance to understand and sympathize with a woman whose life differs completely from my own. The List of Last Chances provided me with a new point of view while being entertained and enraptured throughout Ruthie’s journey.
Myshara Herbert-McMyn is a book reviewer and aspiring writer in the Okanagan. She runs the blog Lit&Leta. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing from Thompson Rivers University. Editor’s note: Myshara Herbert-McMyn has also reviewed books by Paul Bae and Ruth Daniell for The Ormsby Review. Previously, with her TRU mentor Ginny Ratsoy, she reviewed books by Roo Phelps and Tim Conley. Myshara lives in Kelowna.
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