I was so wrong about Alaska. Granted, it’s only March, but The Great Alone is perhaps even better than The Nightingale, and my favorite read of 2018 so far. Some of my reading friends haven’t liked it as much as I do, but that’s okay. I loved it.
The story opens in Seattle in 1974–in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Ernt Allbright had been a gunner on a helicopter which had been shot down and he was a POW for several years. When he comes home to his wife Cora and their 14-year-old daughter Leni he’s a broken man. He’s angry, paranoid, and unable to escape his nightmares.
One of his friends who didn’t make it home from Vietnam leaves a small cabin and some land in remote Alaska to Ernt, and he sees this as a chance to drop out of society and live free on his own land, so the Allbrights move to Alaska, only to find out how poorly prepared they are for life in the bush.
The novel follows the family’s struggles to build a new life, the ongoing struggles Ernt has with what we know today to be Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, his paranoia, his growing anger, and his abuse of Cora. Most of the novel is set in 1974 and 1978, but eventually ranges to 1986, and ends with a coda in 2009.
I don’t want to say anything more about the storyline because… spoilers. But there’s plenty of suspense. At times I found myself covering up the text at the bottom of the page because I didn’t want to see it prematurely. Heart-beating, anxiety-inducing suspense.
This novel is so many things, a love letter to Alaska, a reflection on the nature of family and love, a coming-of-age story for Leni, and an examination of mental illness and abuse.
I made it almost to the end without losing it, and I was worried that the ending was going to be too easy and cheesy. But it absolutely wasn’t, and three pages before the end, the book got me. I rarely am brought to actual tears when reading. (Movies are another story… “I’m a major weeper.”) This book joins the ranks, which I can count on one hand.
I don’t give out five-star reviews very often, but this is two in a row for Kristin Hannah’s books. When I have time, I will definitely push further back into her backlist, and will snap up her next one without any hesitation. Read this book!