Beth's Book Review

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin's Press, 2018)

291be3ab9a810868f474_The_Great_Alone.jpg
291be3ab9a810868f474_The_Great_Alone.jpg

            What is the “final frontier” on the Earth's surface? Many people would say Alaska, the 49th state, which was added to the United States fifty years ago. Once one has traveled to that remote land, it is impossible to forget the magnificence of the terrain and beasts. Floating by ship in Glacier Bay, surrounded by ice the color of sky, is a surreal experience, especially when chunks of the ice suddenly break off and tumble toward the sea, leaving a froth of ice splinters streaming into the wake. The exciting experience of spotting a bull moose, larger than an elephant, sporting antlers that could easily impale any rival,  is imprinted in memory as one of the Earth's greatest wonders once one has witnessed it in person.

            Thus, the setting for Kristin Hannah's latest best seller, The Great Alone, is unique and mind boggling when the reader considers the risks that adventurers and daring settlers take, even today, when they attempt to live off the land in Alaska. This is the situation in which Hannah places a family from the “lower 48,” the Allbrights when Ernt, the survivor of being a POW during the Vietnam War, decides to move his wife, Cora, and thirteen year old daughter, Leni, when he surprisingly inherits a home and 40 acres of land from a friend who  had been killed in Vietnam.

            Plagued by untreated PTSD, and self-medicating with the consumption of alcohol, Ernt has been unable to keep a job since he returned from Southeast Asia. His wife, raised in an affluent home, has not only supported him, she has enabled him to the point that he has become not only verbally abusive, but physically abusive as well, taking out his frustrations on his pretty wife for his failures. Feeding Ernt's paranoia is his disgust with events occurring in 1974 Washington D.C., and the mysterious disappearances of young women in the Seattle area, signifying that a serial killer, a predator worse than a grizzly bear,  is operating locally near where his family lives.

Sign Up for E-News

            So, the Allbrights (or perhaps Hannah should have called them the Nonetoobrights) go off to Alaska in an aging van, unprepared and ignorant of the enormity of the adventure which they are seeking. The trip north is full of optimism that a fresh start feeds on; that is until the Allbrights see their new home for the first time. Located on the Kenai peninsula, the area in which their home is perched, Keneq, is cut off from the mainland by glaciers and mountains. Only thirty people make up the community of settlers, and many of them, like Mad Earl are a little looney and sport colorful names, like Large Marge and Crazy Pete. Although they are an odd assortment of kooky characters, most of these people are kindhearted and live by the principal of helping one's neighbor.

            Nuzzled onto the edge of a cliff, the first site of the Allbright's new home is shocking for the naïve family. Small, dark, and rickety, the first thing that Leni notices when she enters the filthy shack is the stench of animal poop. With no electricity or running water, cleaning their new home will take days of hard labor. The interior décor is described as having, “Skinned log walls which displayed animal traps, fishing poles, baskets, frying pans, water buckets, nets. The kitchen---such as it was---took up one corner of the main room. Leni saw an old camp stove and a sink with no fixtures; beneath was a curtained-off space. On the counter sat an old ham radio, probably from World War II, cloaked in dust. In the center of the room, a black wood stove held court, its metal pipe rising up to the ceiling like a jointed tin finger pointed at heaven.” (p. 34) Worse yet, there is no bathroom in the cabin, but an outhouse to service the needs of the residents of this Shangri-la.

            Despite their disappointment at the first site of the new Allbright homestead, Cora clings to optimism and promises Leni that they can make do without television, running water, or even electricity. Leni responds to her mother by murmuring, “We'll make the best of it . . . And he'll be happy this time.” (p. 35)

            However, after befriending the local white supremacist, Mad Earl, Ernt begins to succumb to the rhetoric that his friend espouses. “The world's gone mad. A man has to protect himself. I came up here in '62. The Lower Forty-eight was already a mess. Commies everywhere. The Cuban Missile Crisis scarin' the shit outta people. Bomb shelters being built in backyards. I brung my family up here,” (p. 49) Mad Earl primes Ernt.

            Despite the splendor of the landscape and the freedom of living off the land by shooting one's own meat and fishing for wild salmon, when the darkness of winter comes, Ernt Allbright morphs into someone strangely akin to Jack Torrance in Stephen King's The Shining. While the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel in Colorado pitch Torrance into dangerously manic behavior that threatens his family, Ernt evolves into a monster fueled by fear of hunger, drowned in alcohol, and propelled by ghosts from his experiences in Vietnam. Things eventually become so bad for the Allbrights that their neighbors step in and banish Ernt to work on the Alaskan pipeline during the winter months to keep him away from his women.

            Leni, from whose point of view the story is seen, takes solace in reading, going to school at the A-frame log school house in town, when the weather permits, and falling in love with the tall, handsome son of the wealthiest man in the neighborhood, Tom Walker. Tom, owner of the successful local tavern, has a vision of what he wants Alaska to become in the future, a wilderness to which visitors from the lower 48 can escape for a while, equipped with such modern amenities as toilets. However, Ernt's paranoia about his perception of flirtation going on between Cora and Tom, propels his fury and makes him all the more dangerous. And, when Leni falls in love with Matthew Walker, Ernt's rage in uncontrollable.

            As a title for her novel Hannah chose The Great Alone, a phrase taken from a poem by  the early 20th century poet, Robert Service, best known for his piece called “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” The lines that Hannah used come from a poem entitled “The Shooting of Dan McGrew,” which read:

                        Were you ever out in the Great Alone, when the Moon was awful clear,

                        And the icy mountains hemmed you in with a silence you 'most could hear?

Aside from being a phrase that describes the lives of those who struggle to survive in such a remote place, the lines from the Service poem operate with double meaning for the main character, Leni Allbright, who is only 13 years old at the novel's opening. Leni, who has learned important life saving skills in school as well as on the land, has a lonely existence cut off from other kids her age, especially as her father sinks into further despair. Her mother's self-pitying behavior casts a pall of guilt over Leni as the girl contemplates escape from her Dad who is becoming increasingly manic as the story goes on.

            The Great Alone maintains a high level of interest for the reader, largely due to Hannah's first hand knowledge of what it means to survive in “the Great Alone.” Her own family moved to Alaska and founded a well-known hotel called the Great Alaska Adventure Lodge, which operates today in Sterling, Alaska. Therefore, Hannah is able to draw on stories that she has heard, and personal trials that she has had in her time in the “final frontier.” Long after the reader finishes the novel, the characters and story stays with her as she thinks about how things might have gone differently for the Allbright family, or whether fate had destined their future once they got into their Volkswagen van and headed for their American adventure.

Beth Moroney, former English teacher and administrator in the Edison Public School District, specialized in teaching Creative Writing and Journalism. Recently Moroney published Significant Anniversaries of Holocaust/Genocide Education and Human/Civil Rights, available through the New Jersey Commission on the Holocaust. A passionate reader, Moroney is known for recommending literature to students, teachers, parents, and the general public for over forty years. Moroney can be contacted at trackdak19@hotmail.com.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Morristown

AtlantiCast

AtlantiCast: Episode 16

Summer is in the air, and the latest episode of AtlantiCast is ready to help you enjoy some fun outdoors while staying safe! This week’s episode opens with tips for sunscreen usage from Atlantic Health System’s Chief Medical and Academic Officer, Dr. Jan Schwarz-Miller. You’ll also learn about how Atlantic Health System is advancing the future of health care through ...

Love Soccer? Come Watch FC Motown Take on Atlantic City FC; Students and Teachers are Free

June 15, 2018

MORRISTOWN, NJ - FC Motown is off to a flying start in the NPSL season, posting a conference best record of 5-0-0. Over this stretch, FC Motown has scored 20 goals over the 5 games, while conceding one goal. 

After a strong start to the season, FC Motown continues to get national recognition as the team has climbed up to 1st (out of 98 teams) in the latest NPSL ...

Free Hazardous Waste Event this Saturday in Morris Township

MORRIS TOWNSHIP, NJ - The Morris County Municipal Utilities Authority has scheduled a free Household Hazardous Waste Drop-Off event this Saturday, June 9, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.to help Morris County residents properly discard unwanted hazardous household products that have accumulated in their homes.

Saturday’s rain or shine event will be held at the Morris County Public Safety Training ...

Morristown's Sunrise Lake Hosts Annual Beach Camp-out

MORRISTOWN, NJ. - Grab your tents for an overnight adventure at Sunrise Lake. The Camp-out on the Beach will take place at Sunrise Lake at Lewis Morris Park on Friday June 22 and Friday August  3.

Families can arrive by 4pm for free beach admission plus water activities which include swimming, boating and having fun on the Wibit, the inflatable obstacle course. Please note Wibit ...

Free Rabies Clinic For Dogs and Cats In Morristown June 16

June 15, 2018

MORRISTOWN, NJ - The Town of Morristown is providing dog and cat owners an opportunity to get a free rabies vaccination for your beloved pet. Morristown's Division of Health is holding this free rabies clinic on Saturday June 16, 2018  from 11:00 - 1:00 pm at Town Hall.

Pets who have never been vaccinated before will be given a one year vaccination. All other animals will ...

Free Training for Parents/Caregivers to Keep Kids Safe on Mobile Devices

PARSIPPANY, NJ -  With school ending soon do you know how to keep your kids safe on mobile devices?

NewBridge Services is hosting a free training June 13 at its Parsippany location to teach parents and other caregivers how to to keep children and teenagers safe when they use mobile devices.

The two-hour program on June 13, will start at 4:30 p.m.  The program will address phone ...

Garden State Harley Davidson Cancels Weekend Event Due to Weather

**Please note this event has been cancelled due to the impending weather**

MORRIS PLAINS, NJ -  Garden State Harley-Davidson, is hosting a benefit ride on Saturday, June 2, 2018 for the charitable organization, Mallory’s Army. The fifty mile, scenic, police escorted ride will leave the dealership at approximately 11am and wind its way through Morris County. Upon return to ...

Morris County Historical Tours Begin This Saturday With Discover Morristown's People and Places Walking Tour

June 15, 2018

MORRISTOWN, NJ - The Summer Walking Tour and Lecture Series, hosted by the Morris County Tourism Bureau are set to begin Saturday June 16.

The Discover Morristown’s People and Places Walking Tour  will take place tomorrow, Saturdays: June 16 (as well as July 7) The tour begins at 11am. Visitors are invited to take a leisurely walking tour through Morristown with author ...

Summer Concert Series: River of Dreams Comes to Morris Township's Ginty Field Gazebo

MORRIS TOWNSHIP, NJ - The Township of Morris Department of Parks and Recreation is again hosting free summer concerts at the Ginty Field Gazebo.  On Tuesday, June 19, 2018 the River of Dreams will perform at 7:00 P.M.

River of Dreams is an authentic tribute to the music of Billy Joel, a six piece band from the New York tri- state area. They cover all decades of Billy Joel’s career, ...

Garden Party Fundraiser At Historic Morristown Retreat House Features Live Baroque Music

Loyola Jesuit Center in Morristown will host its seventh annual “Evening in the Loyola Prayer Gardens” event on Thursday, June 14 from 6:30p.m. to 9:00p.m.  Funds raised will help the Center continue its mission of providing one-of-a-kind retreat experiences and spiritually-enriching programs to the community.

Guests will enjoy an outdoor evening of cocktails, a light buffet ...

What's on Tap This Week This Week in Morristown; Morris Township

June 18, 2018

MORRISTOWN, NJ - What is going to be on TAPinto this week?  

Monday (6/18) There is a Planning Board meeting in Morris Township. The meeting begins at 7:30 at the Municipal Building

Tuesday (9/19) There will be a meeting for the Morristown Parking Authority at 14 Maple Avenue at 6pm. A free Blood Pressure Screening in Morris Township at 11am (Municipal Building). The Morris ...

Buy More, Save More at Morristown's Paradise - A Lilly Pulitzer Signature Store

When shopping at Paradise:

BUY 2 ITEMS, RECEIVE 10% OFF!

BUY 3 ITEMS, RECEIVE 20% OFF!

BUY 4 OR MORE ITEMS, RECEIVE 30% OFF!

MENTION THIS AD FOR PROMOTION!

NOW THRU SUNDAY, 6/16

*valid on in-stock apparel and footwear, cannot be combined with any other offer or discount

The store is located at 980 Mt. Kemble Avenue/ Route 202 Morristown

973-425-0505

Morris Township Pools Will Be Open This Weekend

MORRIS TOWNSHIP, NJ -  Ginty and Streeter Pools in Morris Township will be open this weekend (June 6 & 7)and next (June 9 &10) from 11am - 8pm.

Both pools feature crystal clear waters and beautiful grounds for summer enjoyment. Both pools have undergone recent improvements which include a giant slide, special zero-depth entry family bays, shaded in-pool seating and ...

Danger Sinks Plan to Bring Veteran's Cruise to Roxbury's Landing Channel

June 15, 2018

ROXBURY, NJ – The Lake Hopatcong tour boat Miss Lotta tour boat won’t be cruising into Roxbury’s Landing Channel on June 30 as part of its Third Annual Veteran’s Cruise, said its captain today.

The much-anticipated visit by the big boat to the channel at the southern tip of Lake Hopatcong was scuttled after its captain, Leon Moreau, sailed her into the channel ...

New Jersey Teacher Gets Life-Saving Liver Transplant

June 18, 2018

NORTH PLAINFIELD, NJ — Maggie Heteji Grabko, a mom of two who worked this year at Westfield’s Lincoln School as a special education preschool teacher, underwent a successful liver transplant on June 13, according to an update on the family’s GoFundMe page by her husband, Shawn Grabko.

The couple lives in North Plainfield with their two children, 12-year-old Ella and ...

Why Buying a Home is Better Than Renting

People often ask if now is a good time to buy a home in New Jersey, but nobody ever asks whether or not it’s a good time to rent. Regardless, Team Nest Builder wants to make certain that everyone understands that now is NOT a good time to rent.

The Census Bureau recently released their 2018 first quarter median rent numbers. This graph from their report shows rent increases from 1988 ...

Thirty Days after the Draft

It’s been just about thirty days since the 2018 NFL Draft and the New York Jets have been working hard to build the team fans have been waiting for. Let’s recap the first round draft pick before discussing OTA’s and other Jets info.

Some New York Jets fans were certain earlier in the 2017 season that with the way the win-losses were going, Sam Darnold would be the New York ...

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn (William Morrow, 2018)

 

A friend, whose opinion on literature I respect greatly, reported to me recently that she had just finished reading A.J. Finn's debut novel, The Woman in the Window. Of it she said, “I wish I hadn't finished it,” which I interpreted to mean, “It was so good I'm sorry that I finished it.” ...

The Power of Positive Engagement

June 16, 2018

June 15, 2018

To the Editor:

I wanted to share this letter from Laurie Beacham, Media Director for NJ 11th for Change, about the notable increase in voter turnout and citizens deciding to run in the recent primary election:

"The 11th Congressional District has a lot to be proud of. In the June 5th primaries, voter turnout climbed from almost 33,000 in 2014 to over ...

 What Are The Warning Signs of Suicide

June 11, 2018

The recent passings of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain remind us to take mental illness seriously. 

Many of us feel uncomfortable to ask when someone in distress is suicidal for fear we are putting this thought in their minds. This is not true. It is a myth that asking about suicide increases the risk of suicide. The most common mental illness is depression. Some people are ...

How Laughter Can Make You More Productive at Work

Laughter isn’t just good for health and fun; it is good for your productivity and work life as well. 

Laughter can be a great way to "win friends and influence people," as the classic book title says. We spend around one-third of day with our colleagues, so why not try to make the most of it? Some colleagues can become close friends. Others might be more like enemies, but ...

Webber Campaign Statement On de Neufville Bribe Offer

June 2, 2018

Today, the Webber campaign issued the following statement on press reports detailing an offer from Peter de Neufville to other candidates to drop out in exchange for a taxpayer paid job:

"The allegation that Peter de Neufville tried to bribe Antony Ghee is a disturbing one. This is corruption plain and simple, and it is wrong. This should be investigated thoroughly by the appropriate ...

Freeholder Team of Smith, Krickus, and Shaw provide a conservative platform, experience, and accomplishments

We are proud to run on a solid conservative platform and utilize our experience and accomplishments in the service of the residents of Morris County. Our platform includes-

Fiscal Responsibility- We will hold the line on county property taxes, as we achieved three years of zero county tax and reduced debt by over $50 million. 
Focus government on what counts- Preserve our parks and ...

Upcoming Events

Wed, June 20, 9:00 AM

The Wayrick Gallery, Scherman Hoffman Wildlife Sanctuary, Bernardsville

NJ Audubon: NJ Audubon Photography Instructors’ ...

Arts & Entertainment Green

Carousel_image_a9b88b48c5813d6f899e_29541884_983368395148362_6967640618432258091_n

Wed, June 20, 6:00 PM

End Of Elm, Morristown

Whiskey Wednesday

Running from the Scene Lands Man in Jail; This and More in this Week's Police Blotter

June 19, 2018

6/11: ARREST FOR WARRANTS: Officers executed a motor-vehicle stop for an equipment violation at Jonathan's Woods in Rockaway Township. An investigation revealed the driver, Jaclyn A. Callan, age 35, of Manalapan, to have two warrants for failure to appear in Manalapan Municipal Court. She was transferred to the custody of the Manalapan Police Department.

6/12: ARREST FOR WARRANT: Officers ...

PRESCHOOL ADVANTAGE FUNDS EIGHTY-FIVE CHILDREN AT AREA PRESCHOOLS

June 13, 2018

MORRISTOWN, NJ, June 6, 2018 -- Preschool Advantage has announced funding of preschool tuitions for 85 children at 24 partner preschools for the 2018-2019 academic year.  The selected children hail from 36 different communties in Northern New Jersey.  These families would not be able to afford preschool for their children without the support provided by Preschool Advantage and the ...