In Etta and Otto and Russell and James, Etta Vogel sets out from her native Saskatchewan to Halifax, Nova Scotia, leaving her husband Otto with a short note and a collection of recipes on the kitchen table. She also leaves him their only vehicle, the truck. She has decided to travel on foot.
Emma Hooper’s bittersweet story chronicles not only Etta’s journey, but the story of her life as a rural school teacher, her involvement with best friends Russell and Otto, and her growing memory loss. Otto is stoic in the face of Etta’s disappearance, as if he understands it is something she is driven to do. He puts on Etta’s apron and using her recipes, learns to cook. Russell is anxious when he discovers she has set out on foot for the coast, and attempts to coax her to return. In order to round out the quartet, James appears later in the story as Etta’s quite unusual traveling companion, providing her with company and advice.
Etta and Otto and Russell and James is reminiscent of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It is a true story of commitment: to neighbors, friends, and lovers. Hooper creates characters readers not only care about, but urge on. Readers want Etta to reach her destination, and then realize why she so badly wanted to.
Etta and Otto and Russell and James was published in 2015 by Simon and Schuster.