Kristin Hannah is a very popular author. I tend to read on the fringe of that popularity awareness spectrum. I do not typically navigate the same reading trends and lanes as all the other people out there reading. And by “all the other people out there reading” I mean most of the people, and would include in that list all of the people that I know personally. I stumbled across a much-recommended historical fiction novel — The Nightingale — set during World War II. Admittedly this is my weakness, the kryptonite of reading genres for me. I downloaded the Audible version and was transported so quickly to 1939 France that I barely had time to grab my head scarf to avoid detection from the German soldiers as they descended on the countryside.
Yesterday I finished reading my second Kristin Hannah novel, The Great Alone. Is it historical fiction if it’s set in a time inside of my own lifetime? Strange consideration. Let’s say this one is NOT historical fiction. It’s just set in the 1970s in remote Alaska. Spoiler Alert: there’s a murder committed. Bigger spoiler — because I’m not writing any of these meandering and meaningless thoughts to protect you from the fictitious plot of a book whose reading I will never get back my time — the murder of the man is committed by his wife. There that’s out, now let me tell you some more details.
Said murderee is a Vietnam vet with severe PTSD. He beats his wife like no rug should have to tolerate and blames his erraticism and bad behavior on things like the weather and yeah, that’s about it. The weather.
The murderer is his wife and the mother of their only child, a daughter. Never ever, not once, in their probably 20 years together does she resist, complain, fight back, or even leave. Until the day she kills him. Two shots with a rifle into his back.
Why? What triggered (intentionally used that word for dramatic effect) her to suddenly explode (another intentional entendre) and very deliberately kill the self-proclaimed love of her life?
Kids. Am I right? A mother’s love — there’s nothing to compare it, except of course, only all the mothers’ love on prominent display daily, from the Grizzly watching out for her cub to the beaten, trodden-down, misunderstanding love mother in this made-up story that could be as real as you and me. Her husband was beating her daughter in front of her. Why? Beating her because she said out loud she was pregnant. Love caused that. This is a love story, no doubt, any way you peel back the chapters or pile them on top of each other. Love keeps showing up like it’s the through-line giving oxygen to the very pages on which the story is written.
Love: the messed up and completely impossible to understand abusive kind.
Love: the fill your whole heart until it spills over and leaks into your every corner for your child kind.
Love: the young, tender, sweet passing notes in class and sneaking out at night for a breath of you young and innocent kind.
Love: the fierce and large wrap you in my arms because my heart is big enough to hold this whole town kind.
Love: the no matter what you say or do I will always love you kind.
Love: the weathered and wisened and regret-filled rear-view awareness while looking at what’s right in front of me after all these years kind.
Love: the I can’t explain what or why you behaved in the ways you did but I forgive you kind.
Love: the natural ebbs and flows of that which surrounds, protects, and provides kind.
And I am here for love. Always. So there’s that endorsement from me.
But Kristin, I am no longer here for your storytelling, for your doom and your gloom, for your foundation of, and dependence on, grief, hardship, tragedy, death, despair, and darkness to turn every page. Seriously. No relief. And it got to be comical. Can we even end the story without another maddeningly dark plot twist at the eleventh hour? No, apparently we cannot. So with approximately one chapter remaining, our heroine — the surviving daughter whose life was saved by her mother’s murder of her father — is thrown into JAIL for a late-life confession by her DEAD mother for the killing of her also very dead husband.
Was it murder? Yes. Justified? Also yes. In the end did I even care? Not a damn lick because I just wanted out into the real world where Love lives in, as, and through me.
But if you’re looking for a good World War II recommendation I will hook you up.