I read Etta and Otto and Russell and James last year, and I immediately added it to my favorite books list and gave it 5 stars! But I read so many books that, over a year later, I couldn’t remember all the details. I knew I was going to the beach, so I thought, “Why not get it for the beach and give it a re-read?”
The first time I read this, when I checked it out from the library, I didn’t realize it was magical realism. But I love magical realism, and reading it a second time, it made more sense in the story.
This book is character-driven, low on the plot, and heavy on the emotion. The book is non-linear, and switches back and forth not only in POVs (though all are in 3rd person) but also back and forth in time. It explores the relationships between three main characters: Etta, Otto, and Russell. Etta and Otto are married, and Russell is their longtime friend. In the present day, they are all old farmers in Canada. One day, Etta decides to trek across the Canadian wilderness in order to see the ocean for the first time.
In the past, Otto grows up on a farm, and Russell, his neighbor, becomes his best friend. Later, Etta becomes a school teacher while Otto goes off to fight in WWII.
Hooper is a wonderful writer. She’s also a musician, which gives her writing a rhythmic and lyrical feel that I love. Hooper also excludes quotation marks in her dialogue, which adds to the magical realism feel of the book.
Overall, this is a quietly powerful book. At its core, it’s about both a physical and an emotional journey through the Canadian landscape and the characters’ pasts. It explores war, family, and farming, with a talking coyote thrown in there for good measure. If you love magical realism, lyrical, poetic writing, and character-driven stories, I highly recommend it!
VERDICT: 5 stars