When I go to Barnes and Noble I love to peruse the new author section. Part of me visualizes my own book being there someday. The danger of this section is that the books usually look really good and there is a bigger risk of not-so-good books. I've had some victories and good finds in this section, but I've also found some real duds.
To look at the cover of Carla Buckley's The Things That Keep Us Here you would think it was a novel Jodi Picoult would have written. It definitely has a Picoultian (huh. She'd be proud to know someone put an -ian after her name. That's when you know you've hit the big time as a writer. ha!) look to it. I read the synopsis and I became intrigued because it sounded like it focused more on the relationships than on the tragedy going on around them.
Here's a brief summary of the story: Peter and Ann have a rocky marriage. Peter is a dork and says he can't be with her and their two daughters anymore (Right from the beginning I hate Peter because of this). Peter researches migratory bird patterns. An avian flu strikes America with a vengeance. Peter and his beautiful assistant, Shazia, are forced to take shelter with Ann and the two girls while the world falls into chaos outside the walls of their home. Suddenly Ann and Peter don't know who to trust. It's a story of basic human survival, human nature, and familial relationships.
It took me awhile to get used to Buckley's sparse writing that hints at naturalism and some sort of stream of consciousness. Really, it is quite good. It takes talent to give only certain details and still be able to pull out the story. Once I got used to her writing I enjoyed it.
Then things got a little predictable. I knew Ann's friend, Libby, would end up being an antagonist later on in the story. Something about the way she acted I knew Libby was not going to be a strong enough character to make it through the oncoming pandemic. That being said, there is a scene in which Libby and her husband Smith fight in the driveway. This fight seems to be a crucial point in the story but it never gets addressed afterward. That bugged me.
Ok. Now I'm going to address the characters.
Ann is by far the best character. She is the driving force that gets things done when the crap hits the fan. Her motherly instincts kick in and she finds she is willing to do whatever it takes to protect her family from the viral onslaught or any other force out there. In fact, I like her better when she's not with Peter. I don't know if Buckley did that on purpose.
Peter drives me nuts. He separates himself from his family, shirks his responsibilities as a husband and father to study birds. Wow. What an idiot. By the end of the story I do like him though.
Ok. So. Peter and Ann do get back together. The whole story is revolved around their relationship. And then Buckley does something really cruel. She kills off Peter. I was so ticked at that. After that I ended up skimming the rest of the story because I lost interest. Granted, I never liked Peter, but I didn't want Ann to suffer more than she had to. She lost a baby, her best friend (she "betrays" Libby and won't let her inside the house when Ann knows Libby is sick), her kids hate her, and she loses her husband not once but twice. (Are you seeing the naturalism here? The characters never catch a break. Especially Ann.)
There are some cool things in the story. The avian flu soon symbolizes the chasm, the wedge that drives us apart from each other. In Peter and Ann's case it symbolizes the loss of their baby that resulted in the disintegration of their marriage. The coolest scene in the book is when Peter thinks he's infected and Ann is standing far from him and she wants to go to him but there's literally this monster between them, keeping them apart. It's this magical stuff that makes me realize that Buckley has major potential.
With that being said, this book was merely okay. Maybe it was the subject matter. I don't know. I just found myself not really caring about the characters after awhile. Ann remained my favorite until she got back with Peter. I wanted her to be stronger than that. Then there's the random shooting at the very end of the book. It just didn't make any sense.
So there you have it. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this book to anyone. It's a depressing book but it does have some literary value to it.
(I still need to come up with a good, unique rating system. If you have any suggestions, let me know!)
Jake Taylor graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho with a Bachelor of Arts degree in professional writing. He is the author of The Tales of the Unluckiest Lucky Girl series. He is also an avid reader, traveler, movie-watcher, and music lover. He currently serves in the US Navy and is stationed in San Diego, CA.