'The Great Alone' is a domestic Greek tragedy set in Alaska
In 1974, a troubled Vietnam vet inherits a house from a fallen comrade and moves his family to Alaska in Kristin Hannah's "The Great Alone."
After years as a prisoner of war, Ernt Allbright returned home to his wife, Cora, and daughter, Leni, a violent, difficult, restless man. The family moved so frequently that 13-year-old Leni went to five schools in four years. But when they move to Alaska, still very wild and sparsely populated, Ernt finds a landscape as raw as he is. As Leni soon realizes, “Everyone up here had two stories: the life before and the life now. If you wanted to pray to a weirdo god or live in a school bus or marry a goose, no one in Alaska was going to say crap to you.” There are many great things about this book — one of them is its constant stream of memorably formulated insights about Alaska. Another key example is delivered by Large Marge, a former prosecutor in Washington, D.C., who now runs the general store for the community of around 30 brave souls who live in Kaneq year-round. As she cautions the Allbrights, “Alaska herself can be Sleeping Beauty one minute and a bitch with a sawed-off shotgun the next. There’s a saying: Up here you can make one mistake. The second one will kill you.” Hannah’s follow-up to her series of blockbuster bestsellers will thrill her fans with its combination of Greek tragedy, "Romeo and Juliet"–like coming-of-age story and domestic potboiler. She re-creates in magical detail the lives of Alaska's homesteaders in both of the state's seasons (they really only have two) and is just as specific and authentic in her depiction of the spiritual wounds of post-Vietnam America.
A tour de force.
(Hannah will speak and sign copies of her book at 7 p.m. Friday at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd. Information: bookpeople.com.)
Another piece of 'Dragon Tattoo'
In David Lagercrantz's "The Girl Who Lived Twice," Lisbeth Salander is back for her sixth adventure, and she’s got vengeance on her mind.
A small man, not 5 feet tall, sweats his way through a Stockholm heat wave wearing an expensive parka, an unusual accouterment given his otherwise ragtag appearance. He dies. In his pocket the authorities find a scrap of paper bearing crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist’s phone number. Why? Blomkvist has been busy taking down a Russian troll factory that has been seeding the media with propaganda and lies. Not coincidentally, Salander is in Moscow. She’s cleaned up nicely for the occasion: “Her piercings were gone and she was wearing a white shirt and her black suit … because it had become habit and she wanted to blend in better.” There’s nothing like launching a full-bore assault on a crime-lord sister and her nasty entourage to call attention to yourself, however conservative the appearance. This being Stieg Larsson by way of Lagercrantz, there’s a deeply tangled plot underneath all this, involving politicians with questionable records, hackers, motorcycle gangs and cops who are lucky to be able to tie their shoes in the morning. More, Lagercrantz stirs in improbable elements, including superhuman DNA — not just Salander and her family, with their “extreme genetic features,” but also our poor dead beggar, whose story ties in with Sherpas on Everest, a murder plot and a high-up member of Sweden’s seemingly orderly government. Toss in small subplots — a fling Salander has with an abused woman whose ill-behaved husband requires serious correction as only the tattooed genius can deliver it, for instance (“Then she put tape over his mouth and eyed him the way a wild beast eyes its prey”). If Lagercrantz strays into "Smilla’s Sense of Snow" levels of unlikelihood in weaving all these threads, he writes economically, and though he works ground he’s covered in his two earlier contributions to the series, disbelief suitably suspended, it all makes for good bloody fun.
Formulaic, but it’s a formula that still works, as Salander and assorted bad guys spread righteous mayhem wherever they go.
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