Book Review: The Things That Keep us Here, by Carla Buckley

A bit harsh, even for an apocalypse novel.

Book Cover, The Things That Keep Us Here, by Carla Buckley

The characters are well developed, and I really identified with the character Ann as she was trying to keep her household together. She never really loses it like I thought she would. But the act of holding it together makes her more brittle, which is a different kind of way to cope, I guess. Should most likely have PTSD, which the author completely mis-handles, but hey, it’s okay.  Kate the typical/cranky teenager has a great growth arc in the story as well.  The interplay between the different characters (as they are locked together in a house without electricity) and how they challenged each other without even trying was compelling. 

All the “sciencey” exposition came through chapter news report-type epigraphs before section breaks, and extended dialogue between the two scientists, which became a bit tired. Ann’s backstory was really frustrating to get at: it kept being alluded to, but never revealed.

The book reminded me a lot of the movie, Contagion, a Steven Soderbergh creation, with Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow. (She cheated on him in their marriage, and she died from the virus. Serves her right! Who cheats on Matt Damon!?) (Sorry.) At heart, this film is about a guy and his teenage daughter trying to survive a avian-swine flu crossover which plagues the whole globe. Kate Winslet plays a doctor. (Kate Winslet can do no wrong, as far as I’m concerned, FYI.) But the movie jumps back and forth in time, which is a little frustrating. And the slow, widescreen pan of scenery, for which Steven Soderbergh is famous, does irritate sometimes. But these are introspective moments in film – which are fast fading from the lexicon of tools which filmmakers use. I’m all for introspection.

I think, in America, if this sort of thing happened, not only would people be quarantined, the military would be f*king everywhere! SNAP! Like that. FEMA rules would be invoked, there would be food rations dropped off by helicopter, etc. Everybody eating space food packets. Lots of freaking guns everywhere! The book alluded to this – people going nuts with their guns, pointing guns at neighbors, $9 for a can of tuna, etc. – but didn’t really get that part of it “right,” as far as I’m concerned. Remember Y2K? Imagine Post-9/11 Y2K on Steroids. (Yeah, I don’t want to, either: but try anyway.) That’s how bad I think it would be, or possibly worse. It would not only bring out the worst in people, it would bring out the worst of the collective unconscious: monsters, beasties, ghoulies – oh wait. We don’t need these: what we are afraid of is totally real. Neither the book or the movie came close to how that would play out, in my opinion.

The montage ending was a bit disappointing. “Look! It’s all okay, because we can meet up at Mom’s for barbeque!”

This is Carla Buckley’s first novel.  It’s a valiant first novel. She’s one to watch.