The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah was my book club’s January selection. I love Kristin Hannah. I feel like she has really grown as a writer from what I perceived as chick lit to well thought out books. She has expanded as I expanded my reading and as an adult reader she has consistently written books that I’ve adored. I think I’ve only been disappointed once? Those are good odds!
The Great Alone is not what I would call light or a happy read. It was dark, real and practically perfect for a January winter read. It was dark, depressing and covered those emotions in the characters in the book.
The book is set in the 1970s and is about a family that moves to Alaska to start over AGAIN, because the dad needs a change. He was a POW in the Vietnam War and he is not okay. He clearly has what today would definitely be considered PTSD if not a host of other mental ailments. He treats his family horrendously, and as his teen age daughter learns, beats his wife.
He is convinced that this chance to move to Alaska is what will make him better. No one out there telling him what to do, living off the land, etc. etc. They move to Alaska so unprepared. They move in May and as soon as they get there everyone is talking about what to do to get ready for the winter. Winter that according to the calendar doesn’t start until December. But they learn quickly what winter in Alaska means. They are woefully unprepared. And the constant darkness? Spoiler alert: It does not help his paranoia.
I read this book super fast. I’ve struggled in my sleep deprived haze the last few months to barrel through brooks at the pace I’m accustomed, but this book was a very quick read. I read it all on my phone and that may have had something to do with it. I mean, I spend about 3 plus hours of my day nursing, and Adeline is not a calm nurser. If I’m holding a book she is trying to kick it out of my hands. She is funny, she demands constant attention. As in, if you try to multi task while nursing me, even if my eyes are closed, I will try to disrupt you. The phone is easier to hide from her but she still does her dardnest to knock it out!!!
Anyway, when we talked about it at book club, we had come across a series of questions and I wanted to post some here and answer them and invite others to answer them, as I know others have read this book too! So feel free to pick and choose if you’ve read the book, and if you haven’t I highly recommend it!
What aspects of the Alaska/homesteader lifestyle would you find the most challenging in the wild? How would you handle the isolation, the interdependence among neighbors, the climate? Would you have what it takes to survive?
I honestly would not be able to handle a lot of it. I’m a wuss. I do not hunt. I do NOT like the idea of eating so much meat from having to depend on hunting. I am not handy. I cannot sew. I also love electricity. I am not someone anyone would want if the world was ending. I also think that I could do okay in small bursts with isolation. But for long periods of time I may not be able to handle it. I think I can handle it now, because of social media. But to eliminate ANY communication with people would be tough. And limited books. Eeek.
The Great Alone is set in the turbulent world of America in the 1970’s. Why do you think the author chose this time period? How did the world at that time, with the political unrest and kidnappings and plane hijackings, factor into the plot? Why do you believe the back-to-the-earth movement spoke to so many people in the seventies? Why did it speak to Ernt?
I think the time period helps the reader to understand the lack of outside communication, the ability to slip into new identities, no electricity, PTSD with no help, and the POW storyline. All the doomsday news items helped Ernt ( the dad) delve into the paranoia he had about why they needed to be away from society and make their own way.
One of the issues highlighted in the novel is the lack of legal support for women in the seventies. Large Marge often makes the point that the law can’t help women like Cora, and Leni, even as young as she is, intuits that only Cora can save herself. Do you think that was true then? Is it true today? Does the law do enough to help battered women?
I think in some ways it is better and in some ways has not been fixed. Shooting someone in the back does not go over well. Even if he was attacking her daughter at the time. I think people are more apt to believe women, but it is still EXTREMELY difficult for them to proceed in legal matters.
What is your favorite Kristin Hannah novel? Have you ever been to Alaska?