The Great Alone

The Great Alone

I was up until two finishing this book last night.

After reading it all damn day. I was involved, I could not get enough of it.

It was about Alaska, but so much more.

Do you ever wish you could disconnect, go off the grid?

I do. Every day there’s a slew of new emails, business to take care of, never mind news, in a world where we spend so much time alone we utilize our devices to plug in and it becomes burdensome, what if we could just check out?

I don’t mean die, I mean go where there is no cell connection. No cable. Nothing to tie you to the land but your wits.

Now I’m not leaving the city. I don’t want to be that far away from my doctors. I contemplate an emergency in the hinterlands and I squirm. Furthermore, I’ve lived in the hinterlands, where the locals are dentally-challenged and…

I downloaded the sample chapter on my Kindle. I know, I know, this is a constant debate, physical versus digital. And I’ve got to get on my soapbox once again. You see when I got my first Kindle, back in 2009, everything online was under ten bucks. So you took a flyer, you bought books on a whim. Now, with prices so much more expensive, you hesitate a bit, you don’t want to be ripped-off. The goal is to grow the pie. Which the publishing business is afraid of. Hell, look at the music business, people wanted to maintain the sales model and they went to streaming and the revenues went up! I’d love to have you buy “The Great Alone” on a whim, give it a chance.

But you won’t.

Because Kindles have been demonized and you’re not about to go to a store and pay $28.99 to find out you don’t like it.

Which is why I love the sample chapters on my Kindle, I can get a feel.

And I stopped halfway through, and then saw on Sunday that the book was number one on the “New York Times” bestseller list, I decided to give it another chance, I was hooked.

Now Kristin Hannah broke through, with “The Nightingale,” seemingly every woman I know read it. Which was kind of a turn-off, I was not looking for chick-lit. And you could argue that “The Great Alone” fits into this genre.

But it’s so much more.

But it’s popular fiction, so the muckety-mucks will denigrate it.

But it’s better than most of the lauded, unreadable books that are up for prizes.

Yes, first and foremost “The Great Alone” is readable, the number one criterion for a book.

Secondly, there’s plenty of plot. Too many highbrows focus on language, description, what happens is secondary, and what you end up with is writing, not a book. First and foremost you’re telling a story.

And “The Great Alone” is a story.

And it’s what a book used to be.

Divorced from mainstream society.

Too many tomes are comments upon or integrated with today’s world. You don’t feel disconnected or removed, but entwined. Whereas “The Great Alone” is about life itself, interior dialogue, challenges. The truth is no one cares what you’re doing, whether you’re a celebrity or an Ordinary Joe. You can post away on social media but everybody is truly internalized, with their own thoughts, hopes and desires. And this is what we want to read about, not people who are better than us, talking down to us, whom we can theoretically emulate, but people just like us, confused, putting one foot in front of the other, looking for elation around every corner, but falling into the holes now and again.

When you set the book in Alaska, you’re leaving the trappings behind.

So it was the mood and the setting that hooked me.

And the characters.

The father loses control. My dad lost control on a regular basis. He did not hit my mother, but he hit us kids all the time, when he would go nuts it was like there was a raving lunatic inside the house. Or in the car. Or absolutely anywhere, my father never held back. And the truth is he had a rough upbringing and he was totally internalized and he could not express his emotions any other way. So he held back until his feeling boiled over and then let loose. By today’s standards, we were abused kids. But that was the fifties and sixties for you.

So I identified with that.

And I identified with people who didn’t fit in, who threw the game overboard. What I hate about the rat race is it’s organized, you’ve got to buy in, so you try to climb the greased pole and very few make it to the top. Those odds are too daunting, they make me want to check out. So I do. Like the woman here who was a big city prosecutor and gave it all up. You used to see people like this all over the west, before the triumphant arrived with their satellite phones and private planes and lorded it over the locals how they could live in nowheresville and still be kings. But the truth is, when you truly live off the grid, you’re all in it together, but nobody on the top wants to associate with the riff-raff, and the riff-raff have contempt for those who are successful and that’s even in this book.

Along with romance. The way love happens. Always when you least expect it. And then you’re consumed.

And the system. It never works in your favor.

So the highbrows will say “The Great Alone” is not literature, but I beg to differ, there’s more honest insight than there is in a slew of Booker Prize nominees.

“Up here, there’s no one to tell you what to do or how to do it. We each survive our own way. If you’re tough enough, it’s heaven on earth.”

That’s what I used to like about Los Angeles, and still do. You’re a number out here, where you went to college is irrelevant. Everybody’s so into their own business, their own struggle, they don’t care about you. It’s the opposite of the east coast where who your parents are and where you went to school matter, they don’t in L.A.

“Everyone has a story.”

How true is that. And I love getting it. Rich, poor or otherwise. And usually, the less you’ve got, the more you’ve struggled, and the more interesting it is.

“Leni couldn’t have a real friend because she couldn’t be one.”

Friendship is complicated. Either you figure it out right away, find connections in school, emulate your parents, or you don’t. You have to know how to give to get, how to overlook. You have to know you NEED other people. You have to reveal truths. You have to listen to others, even when you want to roll your eyes. Life is about personal interaction, never forget it.

“He taught her something new about friendship: it picked right back up where you’d left off, as if you hadn’t been apart at all.”

Why is it I can go decades without seeing a college buddy and as soon as we reconnect, it’s like no time has passed. This happened to me. I know it happens to you.

“She knew what nightmares could do to a person and how bad memories could change who you were.”

I can’t get over certain things that have happened in my life. I love being older, I’m much more comfortable in my skin, but I’ve been burned and am twice shy. And how often do I have nightmares and they stick with me the whole damn day.

“Sometimes you had to go backward in order to go forward.”

I struggle with this, I talk about it with my shrink all the time. I’m afraid to give up anything I’ve got, even though if I backtrack, enter free-fall, I might end up somewhere better.”

“Hormones are like afterburners. The right touch and you’re in outer space.

Needs no explanation, it just rings true.

“Fatal mistakes often look ordinary.”

Actions have consequences. Try to get it right. And when people attempt to pull you off course, think twice, there might be no recovery, no return to normal.

“It didn’t matter how you lost a parent or how great or shitty that parent was, a kid grieved forever.”

If you’ve been here, you know this is true.

This did not turn out the way I wanted it to. Didn’t have the tone, didn’t have the flow. It would have been better at 2 AM, in the throes of having finished the book.

But if I’d written then I’d have been unable to sleep. Creative work is not like 9-5, or 8-6, or even 9-9. You get amped up, and then you can’t calm down. Which is why rock stars are creatures of the night, why they do drugs to try and sleep. All my best ideas come at night, when the world slows down, when people stop looking for me in such voluminous numbers, when I feel I have room to move.

But the world doesn’t function on my schedule.

That was one of the great things about moving to L.A. in the seventies, the twenty four hour stores!

But try seeing a doctor at 9 PM, ain’t gonna happen, unless you’re in the ER.

And then I wonder, if I do something great, that makes you connect, will it make any difference? Hell, it’s not like when I write something great cash comes out of the CD drive in my computer. As a matter of fact, my computers no longer have CD drives!

And I wanted this to be more personal, and a bit more ethereal, a bit more disconnected from everyday life, so it would plug you more into reality, if that makes sense.

It does to me.

And the thing is we no longer agree, on almost anything. There are people who will hate “The Great Alone,” say any male who loves it is a pussy. Yup, that’s the right word, that’s what males say until they reach their breaking point and need a helping hand. But they’re stoics before that, they don’t need no stinkin’ shrink, they’re the boss of the household, they don’t want to appear soft and weak, whereas the truth is we all are sometimes, and it’s o.k. to acknowledge it.

The truth is there’s very good writing out there. And this is not some of it, I mean what you’ve read above, but “The Great Alone” is. Because Kristin Hannah has evidenced life in story, and the unexpected twists and turns reflect what really happens, the unexpected accidents, the incorrigible personalities, the helping hands.

I hope I’ve convinced some of you to read this book. You know who you are. Those who believe the written word eclipses the visual, who know you can make a movie of “The Great Alone” yet it could never be as good. Because you can see the book in your mind, the landscape, the characters. And it’s not so much about what happens as the feeling the characters have, which you can relate to.

This is a piss-poor review.

But much better than the one you’ll read in traditional media, where they’ll tell you everything that happens and render a judgment.

This is an INVITATION! Do you want to go off the beaten track, do you want to think about your choices, do you want to feel as opposed to act?


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