From the author of The Nightingale, comes a spellbinding novel set in Alaska, inspired by the author’s own experiences.
Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier. Thirteen-year-old Leni, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown. At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources. But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.
A compulsively readable, powerful novel of survival, love, beauty, brokenness, and redemption. The pace of this novel is unrelenting, with multiple twists and turns, and much of the time you feel you can cut the tension with a knife. The harshly unforgiving yet breathtaking beauty of Alaska are cinematic, and the exploration of human frailty and resilience are riveting. I’d be surprised if this isn’t made into a movie.
A woman whose marriage is falling apart, an immigrant family struggling to get by in a bewildering new land, and a soldier who wakes up in a hospital with the vague feeling that he has done something wrong… Three stories that will intersect in a split second. The author weaves these lives together seamlessly.
How do we make sense out of the seemingly insignificant random events that sometimes converge to create certain situations? Can small acts of charity and compassion really rescue the dark moments? Can people recover from pain and trauma that seems unbearable?
This is a story about family–the ones we have and the ones we make. It is a thoughtful story that is well written; yes it is tragic, but it is full of hope. The courage and bravery displayed by many of the characters in this novel is beautiful to behold. It gave me great admiration and respect for the tough work done by social workers, foster families, and mental health professionals. The city of Las Vegas is an interesting setting as well. I really enjoyed this novel, it would be excellent for book clubs, and I think the author has succeeded in her reason for writing it which I include below:
McBride said, “I wanted to tell a story that might make a reader have a big feeling, the sense that no matter how cruel or unfair life could be in a given moment, no matter how terrible the consequences of a tiny mistake, it was ultimately beautiful to live. I didn’t set out to write a book about war or poverty or racism. I just wanted the reader to love a child enough to feel devastated when that child’s heart was broken and euphoric when that child got a chance at hope. I wanted the reader to walk away believing that, with all our faults, human beings are worth something.”
A woman wakes up in a gangrenous WW1 field hospital with no memory of who she is or how she got there. There is shrapnel in her feet and she is wearing a British medical uniform, but her accent is American. She remembers driving an ambulance for the war effort, she knows she can draw, and she thinks her name is Stella Bain. As Stella embarks on a journey to figure out her present, she encounters her past as well as her future. Issues of PTSD and how the human spirit can rally in the face of trauma is central to the novel. This is the weakest of the novels I have read by her. I found it lacking in her usual ability to create atmosphere. Some of the story developments seemed contrived and the ending was all too predictable.
Anita Shreve (one of those authors whose name is larger on the cover of the book than the title) has written almost 20 novels. I’ve read almost a dozen of them including Light on Snow. She’s a good storyteller and her novels are usually deliciously dark with many of the same themes running through all of them. Her website is very helpful in that regard, with information nicely given about characters and themes in case you didn’t catch something. (Anita Shreve Website)
- A moment in life that can change everything.
- An unconventional woman who finds a reserve of previously untapped strength.
- Loss and grief, being pushed to the edge.
- A description of a home becoming a reflection of the characters.
- Water as both dangerous and comforting.
The Shreve books I’ve enjoyed the most are The Pilot’s Wife, The Weight of Water, and Fortune’s Rocks. This one is actually a loose sequel to All He Ever Wanted, which I have not read but might pick up now as a flashback.