Etta and Otto and Russell and James
by Emma Hooper
Paperback edition published by Simon & Schuster in May 2015.
If our experiences make us who we are, and our experiences become our memories, then who are we when our memories fail us?
Etta and Otto and Russell and James begins with a letter. Etta, Otto’s wife of fifty-something years, sets out in the early morning from their home in Saskatchewan to walk the 3,232 km to the eastern coast of Canada. She takes some snacks and a gun and her best hiking boots, leaving Otto alone. To pass the time until Etta’s return, Otto first begins baking, and then takes up creating paper mache animals. Russell, Otto’s life-long friend and neighbor, sets out to bring Etta home. Etta meets James, a coyote, on her cross-country hike.
Their stories weave back and forth through time, from their childhoods to Otto’s time at the front during the second World War to the present day. As the characters grow and change and retreat further into their own minds, the book becomes much smaller and more personal. Emma Hooper writes lyrically and her prose takes on an almost dream-like quality, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality. A complex story about identity, loss, and memory, Etta and Otto and Russell and James feels like a love letter, a memoir, and fable. It’s not a book you can make 100% sense of, its best to just go with it, especially when it comes to the ending.