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The Things That Keep Us Here

by Carla Buckley

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4115152,421 (3.97)35
When a deadly pandemic strikes, Ann Brooks's town is locked down and, as time passes, she is forced to confront her failing marriage and fight for survival as resources dwindle and neighbor turns against neighbor.
  1. 20
    Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (_Zoe_)
  2. 10
    Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (_Zoe_)
  3. 10
    In A Perfect World by Laura Kasischke (saratoga99, cmwilson101)
    cmwilson101: A very similar plot, a woman protecting her family during a pandemic.

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Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
It's interesting reading a book about a pandemic when you are living through a pandemic. Though the pandemic described in this book is much, much worse. This book was written in 2010. The pandemic involved is a version of the bird flu. The book focuses on one family - a family that has been fractured but that comes together when the world around them falls apart. The husband is an avian researcher - so he is one of the first people to know how bad things are getting as the bird flu spreads around the globe. He moves back in with his estranged wife - bringing a displaced graduate student along with him - and their two children. As the events unfold we see how each person responds differently, and how this group helps and hinders each other as they try to survive food shortages, cold, and isolation. Difficult choices like whether or not to take in an abandoned baby and who to trust when venturing out into the world make the reader think about what defines us as humans and what qualities help or hinder us when our lives are on the line. A good read, if a bit dated. ( )
  debs4jc | May 27, 2021 |
One of those books that you just can't put down. I loved the tension and the tautness. I kept imagining "what would I do?" and am afraid I'd have been an early casualty, not even having the guts to deal with the supermarket. Fine reading and a timely topic. ( )
  TerriBooks | May 12, 2016 |
Basically, I'm a really lousy housekeeper. Ann Brooks is just too anal retentive a house keeper for me.

Other than that, the avian flu wipes out half the population and this is a dark view of how we will treat each other in the immediate aftermath. ( )
  Stembie3 | Jun 14, 2015 |
The Things That Keep Us Here explores what would happen to an average American family in the event of a worldwide pandemic and, in capturing the rapidly deteriorating conditions, the perpetual paranoia, and the tedium of isolation while cut off from all forms of communication, it largely succeeds. For days after reading it, I found myself making mental checklists. Do we have enough candles? Check. Do we have enough canned goods? Check. Do we have enough hand sanitizer? Check. Do we have enough paper books to wait out the pandemic? F'ing A, check. As a germaphobe, I started washing my hands like I was scrubbing in for surgery and wiping down the shopping cart with an attention to detail that has the Wal-Mart door greeter eyeing me with both suspicion and sympathy. During the "peace be with you" handshake at church, all I can think of is "flu be with you," "flu be with you." This book has not been good for my psyche.

But is it a good book? I guess the best way to answer that is with the time-tested pros and cons list!

What I Liked
*For the most part, Buckley creates believable characters and family relationships. The growing tension between the daughters, between the parents, between the parents and the daughters as day after day passes in boredom and as life regresses to a focus on the basics of survival is realistically portrayed.
*The rapid breakdown of city, state and national services is thought provoking. I think many people wonder if they personally are prepared for such a disaster, but what about the institutions (government and commercial) we rely on daily? After all, we've seen the response to events like Katrina. What if we faced a pandemic that wiped out nearly half of the country's population? That's some pretty chilling stuff.
*Ann's response to taking in a possibly infected baby and putting her own children at risk presents the moral dilemmas one would likely face in such an event. At what point does caring for one's own family trump one's compassion for others?
*Unlike many pandemic thrillers, it doesn't focus on the science and the race to find a vaccine. Seeing a real family cope felt like a new twist for the genre.

What I Did Not Like
*While Buckley does realistically capture the minutiae of daily life in such a scenario, I'd be lying if I said it always made for riveting reading. A good portion of the book reads like one really long snow break. Also, Buckley's writing is serviceable, but a stylist she is not.
*Much of the book is contrived in a way that is unnecessary. When the book begins, Ann and Peter Brooks have been separated for a year. We learn (very early on--this isn't spoiler territory) their marriage has become increasingly unhappy after the death of their infant son. Of course, the pandemic brings Peter back home. This smacks of Hallmark Hall of Fame "will disaster bring them back together again?" territory. When Peter arrives, he has a beautiful young foreign exchange student, Shazia, in tow. Ann is forced to wonder whether or not this is Peter's new lover, but graciously allows Shazia to stay with her newly reconstituted family. Buckley was probably angling for a subplot that would help move the story forward since writing about realistic day to day life (keeping the house warm, keeping the kids fed, keeping the laundry done, etc.) could become monotonous. However, these forced relationship dynamics are distracting and drain away some of the tension and suspense.
*Also distracting is the constant veiled references to what happened to their baby. The story of how and why the child died is purposely withheld for no clear reason other than to give a "surprise" twist at the end that didn't contribute to the family's experience during the pandemic and lacked any kind of emotional payoff.
*Peter is a virologist. Why? Other than finding a flock of dead birds in the beginning and occasionally checking in with his colleagues whenever the power comes back on to read up on whether or not a vaccine is available, his job has no bearing on the outcome of the novel. It particularly bothered me that someone whose job is to study viruses would make one of the most ridiculous decisions in the novel. After becoming exposed to the virus, Peter protects his family by staying in the garage for 48 hours (the incubation time for the flu). But that's it--48 hours. The minute that 48 hours is up, he's back in the house, hugging everyone and engaging the missus in a late night laundry room "whew, can't believe I just cheated death" shag-a-thon. Any parent, with or without a virologist's knowledge, probably would have given it one more day just to play it safe. But, no, the virologist doesn't even think about the damn virus mutating and Peter's joyous return home from the garage turns into a potential Oprah-esque "You get a virus! And you get a virus! And you get a virus!" scenario.

In the end, it's fair to say that this is just an okay book. While The Things That Keep Us Here certainly causes some reflection and brings a human element to the often statistical hypotheticals about the impact of a pandemic, honestly, a newspaper or magazine article about this subject triggers the same level of fear and unease within me. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've typed the word "pandemic" so many times that I have an overwhelming urge to go wash my hands.

Cross posted at This Insignificant Cinder ( )
  snat | Jun 17, 2014 |
I heard about this novel from someone who has been actively involved in learning, understanding and the tracking of on-going viral infectious developments world wide. Carla Buckley’s portrayal of events leading up to a bird flu outbreak, and then the subsequent impacts and situations endured by her heroin family (and their surrounding community) as the outbreak turned pandemic, was presented to me as a timely read given our recent swine flu experience.

I did enjoy the book. It was a quick read that touched on many of the aspects one would face in a full blown pandemic where the death rate equals or exceeds 10% of the infected population. I believe the book to be a great starting point to gather attention and expose the vast majority of our population to the immense risk and potential destruction and suffering that would occur with an outbreak like this. That is the good side.

On the down side, I do not think the book came even close to providing any indication of how bad it would really get if 10% to 50% of the world’s population started dying. Particularly so given most people are totally unprepared for even the shortest interruption of their lives and the services they receive and take for granted.

I suspect, however, that it is better to thinly spread exposure to this subject, rather then heap it on and scare the xxxx out of readers. But just remember what Carla writes at the end of this book, what the CDC has constantly indicated, and what the authority Dr. Henry Niman preaches; the flu virus has been active and killing many of its host for untold centuries. It may not be such a big step for today’s swine flu or tomorrow’s H5N1 bird flu to morph into an unbelievable killer. The continually referenced 1918 pandemic with a mortality rate of 2% would appear, in retrospect, as a non event.

Take the book to heart. Plan for the blizzard of the century, the hurricane, the 7 point plus earthquake and even the pandemic. Or, if none of those natural catastrophic events occur, then maybe at the next man made recession you’re be fortunate enough to have something to fall back on.
( )
  whwatson | Mar 7, 2014 |
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For my sister, Liese
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It was quiet coming home from the funeral.
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When a deadly pandemic strikes, Ann Brooks's town is locked down and, as time passes, she is forced to confront her failing marriage and fight for survival as resources dwindle and neighbor turns against neighbor.

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How far would you go to protect your family?

Ann Brooks never thought she'd have to answer that question. Then she found her limits tested by a crisis no one could prevent. Now, as her neighborhood descends into panic, she must make tough choices to protect everyone she loves from a threat she cannot even see. In this chillingly urgent novel, Carla Buckley confronts us with the terrifying decisions we are forced to make when ordinary life changes overnight.

A year ago, Ann and Peter Brooks were just another unhappily married couple trying — and failing — to keep their relationship together while they raised two young daughters. Now the world around them is about to be shaken as Peter, a university researcher, comes to a startling realization: A virulent pandemic has made the terrible leap across the ocean to America's heartland.

And it is killing fifty out of every hundred people it touches.

As their town goes into lockdown, Peter is forced to return home — with his beautiful graduate assistant. But the safe suburban world of the Brooks is no longer the refuge it once was. Food grows scarce, and neighbor turns against neighbor in grocery stores and at gas pumps. And then a winter storm strikes, and the community is left huddling in the dark.

Trapped inside the house she once called home, Ann Brooks must make life-or-death decisions in an environment where opening the door to a neighbor could threaten all the things she holds dear.

Carla Buckley's poignant debut raises important questions to which there are no easy answers, in an emotionally riveting tale of one family facing unimaginable stress.

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