‘The Great Alone’ should just be left alone

Jennifer Reinfried, Copy Editor

I picked up a copy of Kristin Hannah’s latest novel, “The Great Alone,” solely because it was a Goodreads Choice 2018 winner.  This is a category I like to browse to learn of new authors and novels I might not have heard of in the past. The jacket copy tells readers to expect a tale of cold, unforgiving life in Alaska during the 1970s. While this isn’t my normal go-to genre, I was eager to give it a try.

The first 50 to 70 pages were quite fantastic. Not only does Hannah show just how hard living in Alaska’s wild would be, but she does it with an elegant flair, using perfectly worded descriptions to bring the land itself to life. 

Sadly, and much to my dismay, that’s about when the book started to take a slow downward spiral. The writing itself continued to be excellent, but the story itself is a whole different matter.

Spoilers ahead.

The main protagonist is a young girl, Leni, who is forced to leave Seattle to live in the wilderness, learning to hunt, fish, and build shelter all in preparation for the deadly winters that often take lives. Her mother, Cora, is an abuse victim of Leni’s father, a Vietnam veteran with severe PTSD. Readers quickly learn that the relationship between Leni’s parents is a very classic one of abuse, in which the mother refuses to leave the husband that beats her, all in the name of love.

I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it is to break out of the realm of fear one lives in when physical abuse and stalking is in the mix. However, I lost respect quickly for Cora when she continued to stay because “she loves him too much,” not because she wouldn’t leave for herself, but because she allowed her young daughter to be a part of the abuse cycle. Cora even contributes herself, emotionally abusing Lena into staying. To do that to a child is unforgivable, in my opinion, but the author doesn’t even touch on this and instead uses it to lengthen the book as much as possible.

So, I had no respect for the father, of course, as well as the mother. That left the others in their small little town, people we don’t often get much depth out of, meaning they are all quite two dimensional and interchangeable. When one of them died later on in the story, I actually had to flip back to near the beginning to remind myself who she was – never a good sign.

But I must have at least liked one of the characters, right? Perhaps Leni, the main protagonist? 

Unfortunately, as the story went on, she proved to be just as two dimensional as the rest of the town, and what’s worse, made dumb decision after dumb decision until I just couldn’t bear to continue with the story. I will admit, she was bounced around a lot growing up and no doubt lacks a lot of social skills and common sense, but that, too, was never truly discussed. 

Instead, our main character is simply “coming of age” and her idiocy is to be expected.Lastly, and perhaps worse of all, the story turns one cliché corner after another.  In addition, the ending is extremely unbelievable and seems to have only been written to ensure a happy ending. From how she instantly gets out of prison for accessory to murder, to the father of her child miraculously coming out of permanent brain damage, this story ends up taking away from the beauty of Alaska and the intensity of the harsh living conditions they were forced to face. It instead turns into a wannabe Hollywood drama that is hell bent on boring readers with its ridiculousness. 

How “The Great Alone” won Goodreads’ award in addition to high ratings online is beyond me. Perhaps, most prefer a “Hollywood wannabe” type of book, in which case, I’m glad they found something that fit their needs well. But if you’re in the mood for a book about living off the land in harsh conditions, I cannot bring myself to recommend this book.