Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Great Alone

Title:  The Great Alone
Author:  Kristin Hannah
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2018. 448 pages.
ISBN:  0312577230 / 978-0312577230

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "That spring, rain fell in great sweeping gusts that rattled the rooftops."

Favorite Quote:  "... home was not just a cabin in a deep woods that overlooked a placid cove. Home was a state of mind, the peace that came from being who you were and living an honest life. There was no going halfway home. She couldn't build a new life on the creaky foundation of a lie. Not again. Not for home."

Were you ever out in the Great Alone, when the moon was awful clear,
And the icy mountains hemmed you in with a silence you most could hear;
With only the howl of a timber wolf, and you camped there in the cold,
A half-dead thing in a stark, dead world, clean mad for the muck called gold;
While high overhead, green, yellow and red, the North Lights swept in bars? —
Then you've a hunch what the music meant. . . hunger and night and the stars.
The Shooting of Dan McGrew
Robert W. Service

This verse written about the vast beauty of Alaska is the source of the title for this book. The other inspiration for the setting comes from Kristin Hannah's own life. Part of her life was spent in Alaska after her parents left corporate life for a different adventure in Alaska.

The flip side of the incredible beauty of Alaska is a darker side. It is a harsh environment in which to live, and potential dangers - isolation, extreme weather, wilderness - are ever present in the environment. Within that, too, lie vibrant, close knit communities of individuals who call Alaska home. "Any life that could be imagined could be lived up here."

These layers carry over into the dark and often times sad story of this book. This is the story of POW and veteran Ernt Allbright suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and its devastating effects on him and his family. This is the story of an abusive marriage and Cora, a woman who time and again makes the choice to stay. Ultimately, it is the story of Leni, the child of that marriage.

Ernt Allbright on a quick decision moves his family to Alaska, with a wish to start over. "Alaska isn't about who  you were when you headed this way. It's about who you become." Unfortunately, he brings his demons with him. Cora and Leni survive as they always have. In Alaska, though, they find beauty, friendship, and a community. The community sees the reality of their lives and is ready to help should Cora and Leni choose to accept it.

I am not going to presume to judge why Cora stays. Based on nonfiction research, I know that staying in an abusive relationship for a long period of time happens with greater frequency than we would like to imagine possible. I also know that help can often times not be given unless the individual in the situation takes the first step. Actions have to be reported. Cases have to be filed. Conversations need to be started. In this story, Cora stays, and therefore, so does Leni.

The setup and the beginning of the book is intense in the characters, the setting, the situation, and the emotion. It has a sympathetic main character to care about. The events seem frighteningly real especially narrated from Leni's perspective. Surrounding it is the ever present vast beauty and danger of Alaska.

However, as the book proceeds, it is the same characters and the same theme, but the story loses its intensity and its believability. It seems like a race to incorporate every bad thing that can happen into this one story. With a small cast of characters, it is impossible to say where this book goes without a spoiler. Let's just say that it goes too far and undermines the "reality" of the powerful setup of the book. This is one that would receive a higher rating from me had it stopped at one major turning point in the story and left the reader with that dramatic conclusion.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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