Monday, March 4, 2019
Read by Julia Whelan
Published February 2018 by St. Martin's Press
Source: my audiobook copy checked out from my local library
Alaska, 1974. Ernt Allbright came home from the Vietnam War a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes the impulsive decision to move his wife and daughter north where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.
Cora will do anything for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown. Thirteen-year-old Leni, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, has little choice but to go along, daring to hope this new land promises her family a better future.
In a wild, remote corner of Alaska, the Allbrights find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the newcomers’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.
But as winter approaches and darkness descends, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own.
Confession: I have never read a Kristin Hannah book before. Not even The Nightingale, which everyone has read. Why not? I can't really recall what put me off her books; probably something that someone I respect said about her writing or one of her books. And I don't know when this happened; but somewhere along the way, I got it into my head that most stories can be told in 400 pages or less. So maybe the size of Hannah's books as contributed to my reticence.
I got some of what I was excepting from Hannah in this book - a novel that could have been edited down about 40 or 50 pages, a story in which there is only black or white, and a fair amount of emotional manipulation. And the other hand, I got what I was expecting from Hannah in this book, characters I found myself caring about and some twists to the book that took the story in directions I wasn't expecting...in a good way.
Hannah makes sure we don't forget that this book is set in a time when women did not have the options and the rights we have now. In 1974, Hannah reminds us, women couldn't even get credit cards or bank accounts without a man signing for her. Which leaves very few options for a woman who finds herself needing to break away from her husband, even if she were emotionally capable of doing so, which Cora was not.
Hannah's family owns a travel lodge in Alaska so she clearly knows what she's talking about when she describes the beauty of the state, the challenges faced by those who live there, and the battle between those who preferred Alaska to remain untouched and those who wanted to make it more accessible for tourists. She sort of skates over the second of those, uses the third in a fairly predictable way, but oh my, does she do a marvelous job making readers see what draws people to settle in a place that is so harsh and inhospitable so much of the time.
I chose this book for my book club to read this year and read it now as a pre-read to make sure it was one that will work for us. There are some triggers in this book that readers should be aware of including abuse, quite a lot of violence, and murder. But I do think it will make a good book club choice, partly because of those triggers, partly because of the flaws, partly because of the setting and time period, and partly because of the characters. I'll let you know what the others think of it once they read it as well.
I would recommend the audiobook version of this book - Whelan does a fine job of reading it.
At some point, I imagine that I will read Hannah's The Nightingale so I can see what all of the buzz was about. Maybe then, I'll be able to decide if her writing works for me or not.