By Dan DeNeve
Set in 1974, The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah details the story of wife and daughter coping with a man suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after spending time as a POW during the Vietnam War.
When a fellow soldier bequeaths Ernt Allbright a home in Alaska, he believes it is an opportunity for a fresh start and a chance to escape the horrors of his time as a prisoner of war, as well as the loss of yet another job. Packing up his wife, Cora, and their teenage daughter, Leni, the family heads north.
Life is a struggle at first, but with the long sunlit days, there is much to be done in preparation for the approaching long, dark winter. With the help of generous neighbors, the Allbrights feel welcomed, and while not living lavishly, appear to be on the path to normalcy and overcoming Ernt’s darker, volatile side.
However, when winter sets in, a new set of challenges begins. Leni falls in love with Matthew, the son of a rich and influential man with whom Ernt does not get along. Ernt also descends deeper into an us-against-the-world mentality, leading to some very dangerous thinking and actions of a crazy, end-of-the-world prepper.
The consequences of those actions shatter all the hopefulness of that fresh start.
Hannah’s description of the beauty of America’s last great frontier really draws the reader in, making one feel like you are in Alaska. She makes it easy to see the wilderness, feel the cold wind on your face, and see the snow falling. She also makes one feel the urgency of prepping for the long, dark winter that is heading straight for the Allbrights.
Hannah gives her characters depth, and one gets the feeling that they actually care and look out for one another in the same way they welcomed the Allbrights. These are real people, not phonies.
Lastly, Hannah does not shy away from what PTSD has done to an individual and his family.
I enjoyed this book and recommend it. The Great Alone was a fantastic read and a page-turner. The writing is beautiful, but the story is gritty, and, at times, not for the faint of heart.
This should come as no surprise to the reader, as Alaska is beautiful but unforgiving. As one character says, “You get one mistake; the second kills you.” Life there is not glamorous.
Furthermore, the horrors of what Ernt suffers are felt on every page, making it believable.
Dana Point Library hosts many programs, including the Seaside Book Group, which meets every fourth Monday of the month from 10:30 a.m.-noon. The group reads books from all genres and just completed The Great Alone in May.
For more information, please call 949.496.5517, or stop by the library.
Dan DeNeve is a longtime employee of the Orange County Public Library. He currently works at the Dana Point Library as the Adult Services Librarian. He is an avid reader of history, biographies and sports.