By: Kristin Hannah
I haven’t traveled much. The Carolinas in the Southern U.S. have always been my home and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Not that I wouldn’t try it. I’m not opposed to it. I’m open to change; although, my openness is probably limited. Does this new place know how to make real grits? Like any new experience, there is no way to be prepared for everything. In The Great Alone the Albright family is accustomed to moving. Ernt Albright is a Vietnam POW veteran. Today, society would recognize his PTSD and, perhaps, his family would be able to get him the help he needs. Cora, his wife, and Lenora, his daughter judge their days by Ernt’s moods. His volatile temper and alcoholism keep him from holding down steady work. What kind of man can’t keep a job and take care of his family? Thoughts like this plague his battered mind and to keep them at bay he drinks and comes up with fantastical ideas for fresh family starts in new towns. His wife and daughter follow him because they don’t know how not to.
His latest scheme is to move them to the wilderness of Alaska.
It’s hard to love a broken person. Ernt is a product of Vietnam that is all too familiar to his generation of men. He is a complicated character. We feel sorry for him and we want to slap him at the same time. Cora is many women who love someone that came and continue to come home from war. It’s incredibly tricky to understand and not judge her, but we see how hard she tries and we know her heart because she wears it openly. Not only is she shouldering the weight of his trauma, but she’s suffering from her own and can’t see how to get out from under it. And we so wish she would because Leni (Lenora), at a very young age, has learned to protect her mother, to look the other way, and to put others above herself. She has become an adult at too young of an age.
Hannah’s portrayal of the Alaskan landscape is remarkable. Alaska is its own character: moody, unforgiving, layered, and irresistible to those that stick around. She’s created a definite time and place inhabited by several sub-characters worth their own stories. I want to know more about Large Marge! These other characters give strength to what some might call a “literary trope,” a forever-used plot of the woman that can’t leave the abusive man. But that’s real life, isn’t it? Hannah is good at capturing relatable moments, emotions, decisions that have to made, no matter what year or where the story is taking place.
The Great Alone is an excellent read. Not only did I learn a thing or two about life during Alaskan winters, but I also came away with a better understanding of how complicated leaving can be. I