I picked up this book, Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone, with slight trepidation. All of my bookclub friends said I have to read this one. Let me just say, I’m glad I succumbed to peer pressure. This sweeping novel about subsistence living in the Alaskan Wilderness sucked me in because I wanted to know what would become of the main character, Leni. Leni’s father, fresh from fighting the Vietnam war and suffering from PTSD, inherits land up near Homer, Alaska and decides to pack up the family and make a fresh start.
During the summer, Leni’s Dad teaches her survival skills and gathering food for the winter to come. As summer progresses to fall, the days go from light almost all day to dark all day long. As it gets darker, the fathers mood darkens with it. “All this time, Dad had taught Leni how dangerous the outside world was. The truth was that the biggest danger of all was in her own home.” He paranoia of the “Outside” invading this new life drives him to madness. His literal mental and figurative wall drives further isolation of both family and community.
The author, Kristen Hannah, creates an atmosphere of such wild beauty, resilient people and inner strength that it makes you want to go up to Alaska and try this yourself. But then again, maybe not. Hannah creates this beautiful but brutal landscape that only the truly determined survive. The Allbright family work themselves to the bone just trying to survive their first winter in Alaska. Through these hardships we begin to see the sick, twisted love that binds Leni’s parents and the different path that Leni needs to pursue in order to survive.
Each character that Hannah introduces has its own complex and unique story. Ernt dealing with PTSD, Leni’s Mom becoming the enabler and Leni trying to grow up in impossible circumstances. Hannah introduces a set of secondary characters that we come to love as well. My favorite character is Large Marg who comes to the rescue over and over again to help the Allbright women.
I could go on and on about how interesting and powerful this book is. I’ll just say I loved it and if you love good solid writing, all encompassing scenery and a story line that sucks you in, this is the book for you! Hannah has the knack for storytelling and if you like The Great Alone, you’ll love The Nightingale as well! Hannah shows the importance and strength of relationships, especially between the female characters.
When I was talking to my neighborhood Librarian, she said, “Doesn’t this book make you want to move to Alaska and try subsistence living?” She wanted to pack it all up and move there. Me–um, no. I like running water, toilets that flush and electricity to see at night. I did visit Alaska in the late 80’s on a cruise ship and saw for myself the beautiful fjords, crystalline icebergs, and rugged wildlife. I saw a grizzly bear race in front of our bus with her cubs on her way to a drinking hole, I also got to touch the new pipeline and was surprised at how warm it was on such a cold day. Alaska is a beautiful piece of God’s earth that was made for much heartier people than I’m made of.