The Great Alone

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The Great Alone
448 pages
The best domestic suspense novelists deliver on two counts: Their plots portray complex, relatable families, and their characters face outsize threats that feel urgent and real. Kristin Hannah, who mastered this one-two punch in 2015's The Nightingale, again nails the nail-biter in The Great Alone, a haunting tale that penetrates human behavior's darkest corners, exploring post-traumatic stress disorder and spousal abuse, all made more terrifying by its wilderness setting.
It's 1974. Leni is the 13-year-old daughter of Ernt Allbright, a fraying ex-POW, and Cora, the battered wife who feels helpless to leave him. Since his return from Vietnam, the three have wandered from place to place, hostages to the patriarch's instability, until he receives word that a slain army buddy has left him land in remote Kaneq, Alaska. Ernt sees this as a chance for a new start, though Cora and Leni sense that the move will accelerate his unraveling—which it does. As the violence between her parents escalates, Leni feels a primal urge to disentangle before "this toxic dance of theirs" further unhinges her. Yet Leni can't abandon her mother, even after her boyfriend, Matthew, offers an escape.
Hannah adeptly weaves in the bizarre headlines of the time, among them serial killers and Watergate, to further underscore the chaos of Leni's world. But it's the connections forged in a beautiful, harsh terrain—with Matthew and other locals, between mother and child—that make this family saga soar.
— Jacquelyn Mitchard