This apocalyptic novel hits most of the beats you expect it to, especially if you’ve read this type of “everyman vs large scale catastrophe” angle before (such as LIFE AS WE KNEW IT by Susan Beth Pfeffer or INTO THE FOREST by Jean Hegland). There’s the mass panic race to get food and supplies with shocking moments of human ugliness, the grim reality of modern conveniences dropping away one by one, and the inevitable specter of death close to home. The unique selling point for me as a reader was the fact that it is from a mother’s point of view, a mother that would do anything to keep her children safe – and believe me, this mother has to make some heartbreaking, impossible, horrifying choices.
First-time novelist Buckley does some things amazingly well. The atmosphere she creates is pitch perfect, especially in the early chapters which are creepily foreboding. The narrative arc of Ann and Peter’s relationship is what holds the story together and it is both believable and touching. And there are quite a few memorable scenes that haunt you long after you read the last page (the one with a cough used as a weapon probably haunts me the most).
The plot can stretch credibility a bit with dramatic highs and lows more suitable perhaps for one of those high octane TV disaster movies of the week. Ann and the family are hit with one crisis after another – it’s relentless. But when they do catch a break, their good luck often seems illogical within the framework of the story which can be jarring (I can’t name specifics without spoilers, but if you want to discuss this, e-mail me).
There’s also the not-insignificant matter of the truncated climax and a very unexpected epilogue which switches to the first person perspective of one of the novels most criminally underdeveloped characters. On the one hand, the epilogue is a beautiful and emotional ending, but on the other, I kind of felt like it took the easy way out and left a lot of my questions unanswered.
THE THINGS THAT KEEP US HERE was released this month in hardcover. Find out more about it at the author's website.
My Rating – 3 Zombie Chickens: Well Worth Reading (I actually vacillated a long time between giving this 3 or 4 Zombie Chickens. So ask me tomorrow and I may have changed my mind!)
P.S. I just have to mention that I adore this cover. I never thought a bird feather could be so scary!