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Literary Glance: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

February 22, 2018

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah starts off with a family moving to Alaska.  Of course there’s more to it than that.  The book is set in 1974.  The father of the family is a former Vietnam War POW.  There are lots of 1970s references.  The main character Leni is the teenage daughter who is a social outcast because the family moves all the time and she likes to read the books that only outcasts read back in 1974, like The Lord of the Rings or Watership Down.  I know that because I was an outcast in the 1970s too, and those were the books I read then.

I’ve read only a few chapters of The Great Alone, but so far Leni seems like the typical social outcast female protagonist in YA lit.  I know about YA lit as well because I have daughters, so I’ve read a lot of YA lit over the last 10 years.

To be clear, The Great Alone is much better written than the vast majority of YA lit.  It’s not even close.  I’m just saying that the main character feels like a YA lit protagonist in a novel written for adults.  Maybe that changes as the book progresses, but I don’t know because this is just a Literary Glance.

Even though it takes place in 1974, The Great Alone doesn’t feel like a book that was written in 1974.  I have books written in 1974, and it feels like writing styles of bestselling novels have changed a little bit.  So The Great Alone is a novel that takes place in 1974 but is written in 2018.

That’s okay.  At least, the 1974 stuff is probably accurate… mostly.  Those books that were written in 1974 about 2018, those are always wrong.  I mean, look at a book like 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was written in 1968.  That book was way off.

The Great Alone just came out a couple weeks and it automatically number one on the bestseller list.  Kristin Hannah has been writing books for a while, so she has a following, so being number one probably isn’t that big a deal.  But I’m always suspicious of a book that hits number one before anybody has a chance to really read it.  That’s usually done by authors who churn out lots of books, and sometimes those books can be rushed to beat a deadline. Kristin Hannah writes about a book a year, and authors who are on a schedule like that sometimes publish books before they’re ready.  A lot of bestsellers by famous authors who crank out novels feel like that.

The Great Alone doesn’t seem rushed, at least not yet.  I’ve read only the first couple chapters, so maybe it will feel rushed later, but so far there is nothing outright bad about it.

A few months ago, David Eggers wrote Heroes of the Frontier which was also about a family moving to Alaska, but I didn’t finish it (another Literary Glance), so I’m not sure how far the similarities go.  Heroes of the Frontier is from the mother’s point of view and she’s hiding from somebody in the continental states, and there’s a lot more rambling stream of consciousness stuff.

I hope this doesn’t mean that there’ll be a bunch of bestselling novels about families moving to Alaska.  That could get old quickly, unless you live in Alaska and enjoy the attention.  Maybe somebody should write a novel about a family starting over in Tulsa.  I like Tulsa.  I’ve never lived there, but it’s a nice place, and nobody would ever suspect that Tulsa is where you’re taking your family to start over.  I’ve been there only a couple times, but people are always surprised that I’m going there.  If I told them I was going to Alaska, everybody would understand.  It’s vast and it’s beautiful.  But nobody (where I live) would understand Tulsa.

When I write my family starting over novel, my fictional family is starting over in Tulsa.  And they’ll move there from Alaska.  They need to get away from Alaska because all the fictional transplants are ruining everything.


What do you think?  Where would you want your fictional family to start over?

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