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Art and Culture

Likely Stories: The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

My encounter with Kristin Hannah’s work came from her exciting and suspense-filled novel, The Great Alone.  It tells the story of Ernt Albright, his wife Cora, and their 13-year-old-daughter, Leni.  Ernt was a captured POW in Vietnam.  When he finally returned home, he was thoroughly broken.  He suffered from a severe case of PTSD.  He has lost another job and verges on the edge of complete collapse.  When he receives a letter from the father of his best friend—who died in Vietnam--he learns his friend had requested Ernt take over the property, so he can find some peace.  The family was welcome by the local residents, and they offered much in the way of labor, supplies, and food in preparation for the coming winter.  Ernt refuses all such help.


Hannah begins the story, “That spring, rain fell in great sweeping gusts that rattled the rooftops.  Water found its way into the smallest cracks and undermined the sturdiest foundations.  Chunks of land that had been steady for generations fell like slag heaps on the roads below, taking houses and cars and swimming pools down with them.  Trees fell over, crashed into power lines; electricity was lost.  Rivers flooded their banks, washed across yards, ruined homes.  People who loved each other snapped and fights erupted as the water rose and the rain continued” (3).  Actually, this first paragraph relates to a storm in Washington State.  Little did they know that the move to Alaska was far and away much more serious and deadly.

Leni saw this as an opportunity for adventure.  She new her father was like a tightly wound spring.  She and Cora thought the move might be a good idea.  Hannah wrote, “The next morning, Leni lay in her bed, listening to rain patter the roof, imagining the emergence of mushrooms beneath her window, their bulbous, poisonous tops pushing up through the mud, glistening temptingly.  She had lain awake long past midnight, reading about the vast landscape of Alaska.  It had captivated her in an unexpected way.  The last frontier was like her dad, it seemed.  Larger than life.  Expansive.  A little dangerous” (12).

The family went into town for some supplies.  Large Marge was a character everyone knew and loved.  Kristin wrote, “‘And you,’ Large Marge said.  ‘What’s your story, missy?’ // “‘I don’t have a story.’” // ‘Everyone has a story.  Maybe yours just starts up here.’ // ‘Maybe.’ // ‘What can you do?’ // Leni shrugged.  ‘I read and I take pictures.’  She indicated the camera that hung around her neck.  ‘Not much that will do us any good.’ // ‘Then you’ll learn,’ Large Marge said.  She moved closer, leaned down to whisper conspiratorially into Leni’s ear.  ‘This place is magic kiddo.  You just have to open yourself up to it.  You’ll see what I mean.  But it’s treacherous, too, and don’t you forget that.  I think it was Jack London who said there was a thousand ways to die in Alaska.  Be on the alert.’ // ‘For what?’ // ‘Danger.’ // ‘Where will it come from? The weather? Bears? Wolves, What else?’ // […] Large Marge glanced across the yard […] ‘It can come from anywhere.  The weather and the isolation make people crazy,” (39-40).

These first forty pages is all you will get from me this time.  Kristen Hannah’s The Great Alone will demonstrate the power of nature, which results in greater dangers than the family expected.  5 Stars

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!