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The Things That Keep Us Here Hardcover – February 9, 2010
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Amazon Exclusive: Carla Buckley on The Things That Keep Us Here
The old black and white photographs are haunting.
Rows upon rows of bleak white cots spreading out to the horizon, filled with soldiers suffering not from war injuries, but the effects of a terrible new disease which mankind had never seen before. Many of these young men would die, their lungs swelling with fluid until they choked to death. Back in their hometowns, their family members waged the same helpless battle. Doctors could only treat the symptoms and hope they themselves didn’t fall victim. Governments rushed to impose some sort of order, but only those cities that completely closed their borders suffered fewer casualties. In all, there were three waves of illness, spanning three years and reaching into every corner of the world, and when it had subsided, twenty percent of the world population was gone. The very young and the old were spared; an entire generation had been wiped away with one sweeping blow. The culprit? The flu.
Almost a hundred years have passed since the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918. But despite tremendous medical advances, and our increased understanding of what a virus is and how it spreads, people are almost as vulnerable today as they were back then. Perhaps even more so, given air travel and how small the world has become. There is no cure. We can see the monster, but we can’t stop it.
In 2006, having just moved to a new hometown with my young children, I was particularly susceptible to terrifying reports that the world was overdue for another flu pandemic. This time, it was H5N1, the so-called “bird flu,” that seemed on the verge of mutating into a contagious form, and it had a mortality rate of fifty percent. Half the world? All I could think of were those narrow white cots, stretching out to eternity.
The Things That Keep Us Here is a work of fiction, based on scientific fact, that asks what the world might look like if the very worst happened and a lethal virus raged uncontrolled. It is written from the intimate perspective of one family in middle America, and most of the action takes place within their home. Would people come together or stand apart? How far would they go to save themselves and their loved ones? In the end, The Things That Keep Us Here is less about the power of a virus to reduce humanity to a shadow, and more about the power of the human spirit to remain untouched.
What images would survive from a modern pandemic, and who would be looking at them, a hundred years later? --Carla Buckley
(Photo © Brian Killian)
From Publishers Weekly
A timely premise can't quite compensate for structural deficiencies in Buckley's lackluster debut novel. Ann Brooks and her family have anticipated the possibility of pandemic avian flu for months; Ann's estranged husband, Peter, after all, has been researching the mysterious illness at his university research job. When the flu—with a near-50% fatality rate—closes in on the Columbus, Ohio, home where Ann and her two daughters live, Peter and his exotically beautiful Ph.D. student, Shazia, move in to pool resources, but desperation grows as heat, food and water dwindle, and the threat of death looms (sometimes literally) on their doorstep. Although pseudoscientific reports and news bulletins add to the novel's â€œripped from the headlinesâ€ feel, emotional revelations are handled less skillfully. A tragedy in Ann and Peter's past, after numerous veiled allusions, is finally revealed in an unsatisfying throwaway in the epilogue. The third-person narration squanders the tensions among Ann, Peter and Shazia, resulting in flat and unsurprising epiphanies. Although Buckley raises important questions about trust, loyalty and forgiveness, the narrative flaws detract from the overall effect. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Top customer reviews
The plot revolves around a pandemic flu strain and how it affects one family. The parents have spent the previous year separated, divorce papers have just arrived ready to be signed, when the dad returns back to the family home with his pretty assistant in tow.
The author sensitively and thoughtfully explores through both main and supporting characters the difficult decisions that we would need to face in this type of situation. Does family come before community? How far would you go to protect your family? Is any one family member more important than any other or others? How do ethics and morality chance when a sneeze can be life threatening, utilities such as electricity and water are not guaranteed, and the food supply is iffy at best?
I loved the author's choice to deal with the subject matter on a microcosm level. It made the book far more compelling to me than it might have been otherwise, since that is how we would experience the situation if it were to occur.
A well-written and engaging book. I thoroughly recommend it.
One of those books that make you think about the story even when you aren't actively reading it.
Very thought-provoking. Makes me want to run to Costco and stock up on water!
Ann hunkers down in her home to weather it out after a panicky visit to a local super market to stock up on whatever food and water is available. The mood of the crowd has already turned ugly as people clamor to grab whatever is left on the depleted shelves. Though he has already moved out of the family home, Peter joins her with his young and beautiful research assistant (who Ann assumed is his girl friend), because she has nowhere else to go. They have little or no contact with the outside world as health agencies are advising people to stay at home and not go to any public places where the virus can spread.
After a violent winter storm shuts off the power, they're all focused on just staying warm each day, hoarding the diminishing supply of food and firewood. Their land line phone still works, but nothing else other than the water supply. Boredom and fear set in, and they are faced with some very hard decisions about who to trust. Ann has to turn her back on her best friend when the friend comes to the door obviously infected with the virus; however Ann takes in her friend's baby to care for since he doesn't seem to be affected.
The tension in the book is palpable as the pandemic lasts months during which the electricity is never repaired and their food supply runs low. You can't help thinking "what would I do" if faced with such challenges. I certainly don't have enough food in my pantry to last more than a few days! Ann calls upon resources of grit that she never knew she possessed to protect her girls, feed them and keep them safe from the virus. There is very little news from the outside world, and they really have no way of knowing how serious the pandemic is, whether it's safe to leave the house, and when services might be restored. It's a frightening glimpse of a post-apocalyptic world in which infrastructures and society disintegrate dramatically and it's every man for himself.
Though certain aspects of the novel were unrealistic, it certainly provided food for thought and a poignant reminder that individuals and communities need to invest more in disaster preparedness. I couldn't put the book down for the few days that it took me to read it