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

Union

Construction Update on Vauxhall Ave. Bridge, Chestnut St. Bridge and Morris Avenue Work

June 19, 2018

UNION, NJ – A CodeRed alert about road construction, the resulting congestion, and what can be expected, was sent to residents Tuesday morning.

The message said the work on these state roads is being performed by the New Jersey Department of Transportation.  The message outlined the following work scheduled for June and July:

The Vauxhall Bridge over Route 22.  Work ...

The Week Ahead in Union

UNION, NJ - Happenings in Union this week:

Monday, 6/18

Union Township Active Retirees (Monday Club), 10:00 a.m., Senior Center
Adult Coloring, 1:15 p.m., Vauxhall Public Library
Construction Zone, 3:30 p.m., Union Public Library
Read to Waldi, 4:15 p.m., Union Public Library
Connect, Explore & Discover Digital Resources, 7:00 p.m., Union Public Library

Tuesday, ...

The Week Ahead in Union

UNION, NJ - Happenings in Union this week:

Monday, 6/11

Union Township Active Retirees (Monday Club), 10:00 a.m., Senior Center
Adult Prize Bingo, 1:15 p.m., Vauxhall Public Library
Construction Zone, 3:30 p.m., Union Public Library
Career Coach, 6:00 p.m., Vauxhall Public Library
Donuts with Your Dude,6:00 p.m., Vauxhall Public Library

Tuesday, 6/12

Senior Citizens ...

Upcoming Events

Carousel_image_1745e208dced874ffd8b_e6e6158b48ac79ad3add_chair_yoga__1_

Wed, June 20, 10:15 AM

Union Public Library, Union

Chair Yoga in the Library

Carousel_image_d44bfd734599e1c3061a_njso_and_summer_arts_festival_flyer

Fri, June 22, 7:30 PM

Mountainside

Union County’s Free Summer Arts Concert Series: ...

Carousel_image_1745e208dced874ffd8b_e6e6158b48ac79ad3add_chair_yoga__1_

Wed, June 27, 10:15 AM

Union Public Library, Union

Chair Yoga in the Library

Union Residents Make Dean's List at the University of Delaware

June 18, 2018

NEWARK, DE - Students from Union have been named to the University of Delaware Dean's List for the Spring 2018 semester:

Natalie Caggiano 

Julia Hayes 

Steven Medina 

Maria Rocha 

To meet eligibility requirements for the Dean's List, a student must be enrolled full-time and earn a GPA of 3.33 or above (on a 4.0 scale) for the semester.

 

Kayla Douberley Graduates Elmira College

ELMIRA, NY - Kayla Douberley of Union was among the graduates celebrated at the 160th Elmira College Commencement on Saturday, June 2. The exercises, held at the Murray Athletic Center, Pine Valley, included 270 undergraduate and 27 graduate students.

Members of the 2018 Elmira College graduating class were recognized with multiple honors and prizes, including induction into Phi Beta Kappa, ...

Rashaunda Beasley of Union Earns a Bachelor's Degree from Georgia State University

ATLANTA, GA - Rashaunda Beasley of Union earned a bachelor's degree from Georgia State University during May 2018. More than 2,000 students earned bachelor's degrees from the university this spring, with more than 4,000 students earning degrees at the associate's, bachelor's, master's, specialist and doctoral levels.

Georgia State University, an enterprising urban public ...

Video: Union County Celebrates Pride Month with CommUNITY PRIDE Day Picnic

June 18, 2018

RAHWAY, NJ - Parents, children, friends, and all family members came out on Saturday afternoon to Rahway River Park for the Union County CommUNITY PRIDE Day Picnic.

The family-friendly celebration hosted by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders, was a day of fun activities of arts and crafts, family lawn games, inflatable bounce houses, playground fun and more, along with music by the ...

Honey Bees Found in Dumpster Relocated

UNION COUNTY, NJ – The County found themselves in a sticky situation last week when a swarm of honey bees were discovered at a construction dumpster at the County Administration building.

A social media post by the County said a pair of beekeepers from the nonprofit organization Groundwork Elizabeth came to the scene on Friday, and the bees were relocated to the Elmora Public Library, as ...

Union Catholic Grad, Olympian Sydney McLaughlin Wins NCAA Title, Announces She's Going Pro

EUGENE, OREGON — College freshman phenom Sydney McLaughlin, who graduated from Union Catholic last year, won the women's 400-meter hurdles for the University of Kentucky at the NCAA Championships on Saturday at Hayward Field, and then announced after the meet that she's turning pro.

McLaughlin, a U.S. Olympian in the 400 hurdles in 2016, completed one of the ...

Boundless Talent on Display at Hannah Caldwell School

June 15, 2018

UNION, NJ –Talent was on full display last week as over 40 students participated in Hannah Caldwell School’s Talent Show, with singing, dancing, musical instrument performances, and even a comedian.

“This is a special performance because the children are in control.  All of the acts in the show were prepared outside of school by the students,” said music teacher ...

Battle Hill and Hannah Caldwell Students Celebrate Reading Accomplishments

UNION, NJ – Young readers in Hannah Caldwell and Battle Hill Elementary Schools enjoyed the fruits of their labor on Wednesday when they celebrated their accomplishments in this year's Olympic Reading Programs.

Librarian Karen Franciosa said, “I couldn't be more proud of the students who worked diligently throughout the year to accomplish their personal reading ...

Red Carpet Moment for Union High Seniors

UNION, NJ – Prom night for Union High School seniors means red carpet glamour.  

And glamour was on full display at the annual red carpet walk Thursday evening, as Union High students walked the red carpet, alone or with their date(s), to a cheering crowd. 

Sponsored by the Union Township Community Action Organization, Inc., the event showcased beautiful gowns ...

Westfield High School Sophomore Dies; Counselors on Hand at School

June 19, 2018

WESTFIELD, NJ — Carthoris “Carter” Uziel, a sophomore at Westfield High School, died Sunday night, according to Westfield Public Schools and a letter sent to parents by Principal Dr. Derrick Nelson.

“Words cannot convey the grief we feel in the Westfield Public Schools community over the death of Carthoris ‘Carter’ Uziel, a sophomore at Westfield High ...

Mountainside Officials: We Knew Nothing About Allegations Until Lawsuit was Filed

MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ – The mayor and council of Mountainside have gone on record stating they had no knowledge of the incidents alleged in the lawsuit filed on May 11 against the borough “until the filing of the lawsuit.”

The borough has also “retained former New Jersey State Police Superintendent Joseph Santiago” to help restore public trust in the department, ...

Union County’s Free Summer Arts Concert Series Launches this Friday, June 22

June 19, 2018

Union County, NJ – The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra kicks off Union County’s 57th annual Summer Arts Festival series of free outdoor concerts sponsored by the Freeholder Board with an evening of Broadway favorites, beloved opera overtures and more on Friday June 22nd at 7:30 p.m. at Echo Lake Park in Mountainside.

Attendees are also invited to bring a mat ...

Union Catholic's Goldera Surles has Received a Prestigious Scholarship

SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- Goldera Surles, one of the state's top bowlers during her career at Union Catholic, was recently awarded a very prestigious scholarship by The National Bowling Association, Inc.  

Surles, who will continue her bowling career at Molloy College in Rockville Centre, N.Y. this fall, was awarded the first place Owen O. Washington Scholarship, which was ...

Union’s Barbara Whitaker Sworn in as Advocate for Foster Youth

Elizabeth, NJ  — Union’s Barbara Whitaker is among the latest class of community volunteers to complete child advocacy training and take their oath from Superior Court Judge James Hely to become Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Union County.

Volunteers with CASA serve as extra eyes and ears for family law judges hearing cases involving the county’s abused, ...

Beatles Lecture @ Union Public Library

The Union Public Library will be hosting an interactive lecture about the early years of the Beatles on Monday, July 9th at 6:30 p.m as part of its “Libraries Rock!” summer series.  Presenter Paul Groom, who lived the first 17 years of his life in Liverpool, England and went to some of the same schools as the Beatles, will discuss the lesser known Beatles story about their days ...

Columns

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 ...

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.” ...

What Union is Reading: Month ending May 2018

June 6, 2018

Some great new books have topped the list in May; how many have you read? The top circulating print books in six categories for the Union Public Library in May 2018 follows. The top circulated digital books from RBdigital make up the seventh category; download the app today and start borrowing books from home to read or listen on your phone or tablet!

For suggestions for similar reads, stop by ...

Could Monmouth Park's Haskell Invitational Be on Justify's Agenda?

June 13, 2018

ELMONT, NY — Triple Crown winner Justify came out of his stall to meet the media bright and bouncing on the morning after his gate-to-wire win in the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes.

When asked to assess his colt's win, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert reported, “We were watching replays of the race. He could have gone around again.”

The brilliantly colored ...

Letters to the Editor

Get Empowered to Help Prevent Suicide

June 8, 2018

Over the past week social media and the news have been filled with stories and articles encouraging people to seek help if they’re in emotional distress. There have been countless articles about the need to break the silence around the topic of mental health and suicide, and I am encouraged by the support people are extending to others.

Often, the death by suicide by prominent ...