The Things That Keep Us Here [NOOK Book]

Overview

BONUS: This edition contains a The Things That Keep Us Here discussion guide.

Everything seems quiet on Ann Brooks’s suburban cul-de-sac. Despite her impending divorce, she’s created a happy home and her daughters are adjusting to the change. She feels lucky to be in a supportive community and confident that she can handle any other hardship that life may throw her way. But then, right before Thanksgiving, a crisis strikes that turns ...
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The Things That Keep Us Here

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Overview

BONUS: This edition contains a The Things That Keep Us Here discussion guide.

Everything seems quiet on Ann Brooks’s suburban cul-de-sac. Despite her impending divorce, she’s created a happy home and her daughters are adjusting to the change. She feels lucky to be in a supportive community and confident that she can handle any other hardship that life may throw her way. But then, right before Thanksgiving, a crisis strikes that turns everybody’s world upside down. Suddenly her estranged husband is forced back onto her doorstep, bringing with him his beautiful graduate assistant. Trapped inside the house she once called home, confronted by challenges she never could have imagined, Ann must make life-or-death decisions in an environment where the simple act of opening a door to a neighbor could jeopardize all she holds dear.

The choices she makes will impact the lives of those around her irrevocably and linger in the reader’s memory in this marvelous first novel, written with authority, grace, and wisdom.

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Editorial Reviews

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 “ripped from the headlines” 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.)\
Library Journal
Medical thriller meets domestic drama in this timely debut. Peter and Ann Brooks are a divorcing couple struggling to maintain civility for the sake of their young daughters when the unthinkable happens: a virulent outbreak of avian flu quickly burgeons into a pandemic. As their Ohio town goes into lockdown, Peter returns to his family with his beautiful graduate assistant in tow. Sequestered in their suburban home, this group must band together to face a world gone suddenly chaotic, where food is scarce, utilities fail, and neighbors attack one another for a tankful of gas. With crisp writing and taut pacing, Buckley spins a convincing apocalyptic vision that's both frightening and claustrophobic, although she handles the human drama less adroitly. The emotional baggage in the Brookses' troubled marriage feels contrived, and the ending falls flat, but it's a great ride up to that point. VERDICT Despite structural flaws, this vivid depiction of suburban America gone bad is riveting. It has the potential for broad appeal and could attract fans of authors as diverse as Jodi Picoult, Robin Cook, and P.D. James. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/09.]—Jeanne Bogino, New Lebanon Lib., NY
Kirkus Reviews
A pandemic, a catastrophic snowstorm, a massive power outage and social breakdown play out in the microcosm of a Columbus, Ohio, suburb. Finally, the other viral shoe has dropped: an influenza strain that, like the 1918 flu, combines human, avian and porcine antigens to deadly effect. H5N1, which first manifests in mass die-offs of migrating fowl, is so virulent that it threatens to wipe out 50 percent of humanity. University research veterinarian Peter Brooks and his fetching Egyptian grad assistant Shazia are among the scientists playing a familiar losing game of vaccine catch-up when Ohio is quarantined and everyone is ordered to go into isolation at home with their families. But Peter lives apart from wife Ann and their two daughters; the marriage never recovered from their infant son's unexplained crib death a decade earlier. Just after Thanksgiving, a blizzard strikes, followed by blackout. Fighting supermarket crowds, Ann hoards enough food to last weeks. Peter and Shazia move in, much to Ann's discomfiture, although she never confronts Peter about his suspected affair, not even when Shazia starts showing signs of pregnancy. At first it seems their area will be spared. Then a neighbor's child dies. Information filters through: The hospital is overloaded, the morgue has shut down and the local ice rink is being used to store bodies. The social fabric is shredding. Quarantine and paranoia preclude cooperation outside family boundaries, and there's no Internet or cell-phone service. (Tellingly, the landline is the last to fail.) Ann's best friend Libby, last seen trying to eject husband Smith from her SUV, shows up weeks later on the Brooks' doorstep, coughing ominously and beggingthe family to take her six-month-old baby. Newcomer Buckley pulls many punches, downplaying in particular the chaos that could ensue following a total infrastructure collapse, and sets up the novel's surprise final twists by deliberately misleading the reader. Mawkish prose and blatantly contrived plot developments make this a disappointing debut.
From the Publisher
“Balances all-too-real terrors with genuine emotion. I read it in one sitting.” —Jacquelyn Mitchard

“Riveting . . . crisp writing and taut pacing . . . could attract fans of authors as diverse as Jodi Picoult, Robin Cook, and P. D. James.” —Library Journal

“Engrossing . . . [for] anyone who enjoys suspense and exceptional writing.”—The Dallas Morning News

“A brilliant debut that deserves to be read by everyone.”—James Rollins, author of Altar of Eden
 

“Guaranteed to keep you up all night.” —Lisa Gardner, author of Live to Tell
 
“[A] knockout.”—Los Angeles Times

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780440339151
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/9/2010
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 35,820
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Carla Buckley lives in Chapel Hill, NC, with her husband, an environmental scientist, and their three children. She serves on the Board of the International Thriller Writers as Vice President of Awards, and is the international bestselling author of Invisible and The Things That Keep Us Here, which was nominated for a Thriller Award as a best first novel and the Ohioana Book Award for fiction. 

From the Hardcover edition.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter Eleven

  Peter wedged his jacket into the hall closet beside the girls’ coats, their cheerful colors standing out against the tan of his jacket and the sober maroon of Ann’s coat, the same one she’d had for years. Boots stood on the floor below—Maddie’s mauve leopard print, Ann’s stubby brown ones, and a sleek black pair with designs stitched into the leather with white thread. Kate’s, probably. She’d always loved cowboy boots. He remembered her first pair, a bright cherry color, that she loved so much she insisted on wearing them everywhere, to the store, on playdates, even to bed. After she’d fallen asleep, either he or Ann would tiptoe in and gently ease the boots off her feet. But then, sure enough, the next morning she’d appear in the kitchen doorway, yawning, still in her nightgown and wearing those boots. How old had she been, two? Maybe three. She’d cried so when she finally outgrew them and Ann couldn’t find a pair in a larger size. 

In the kitchen, Ann was tearing open a box of pasta and dumping its contents into a pot of bubbling water. She looked up as he approached, and she swept back a strand of hair from her face with the back of her hand. “It’s just sauce from a jar tonight.” 

Peter thought of her homemade marinara, rich with chopped onion and garlic and bell peppers. He wondered if this hasty meal was a result of her working full- time or if this was just the way she and the girls ate now. Somehow, he’d thought all three would be frozen in time, doing the same things the same way they always had, just without him. “Smells good.” 

“Get out the Parmesan, Maddie,” Ann said. “Kate, please set the table.” She glanced over her shoulder at Peter. “I think there’s a bottle of wine in the basement if you want to hunt it up.” 

“Sure.” 

He found it easily enough, lying in the wine rack above the mini- refrigerator, just where he’d left it. Rubbing away the dust from the smooth glass shoulders of the bottle, he came back into the kitchen. Maddie was pouring cheese into a small bowl while Kate spread place mats across the kitchen table. Shazia stood by the sink, a water glass in her hand. 

He winked at her and she smiled. 

Ann stirred the pasta. “Do you have a lot of family in Cairo, Shazia?” 

“All my family’s there,” Shazia replied. “My brother, my sister, my parents. My father comes from a large family. He’s one of ten children.” 

“Ten!” Maddie said. “That’s practically a soccer team.” 

Shazia smiled. “I have a lot of cousins.” 

“I can imagine,” Ann said. “What does your father do?” 

“He’s a medical doctor.” 

“And you’re getting your PhD. He must be very proud of you.” 

“Shazia went to Oxford.” Peter opened a drawer and began hunting for a corkscrew among the rattle of spoons and spatulas. “And she got her DVM in Cairo.” 

“Impressive.” Ann brought out a loaf of bread and began to slice it. “So, you’re making the switch from veterinary medicine to research?” Peter knew what Ann was thinking. He’d made the same career jump. He remembered telling Ann he was entering research. He’d leaned across the table and clasped her hands in his. Later, she’d confided she thought he was about to propose. When that time did come, it was over a table, too, and there was candlelight and wine. He looked down at the bottle in his hands and got busy. 

“I read one of Peter’s articles online,” Shazia said. “It was very persuasive. He said the best way to make a real difference in animal health was through research.” 

“I like your phone,” Kate said. “It’s such a cool color.” 

“Look how tiny the keypad is,” Shazia said, pulling it from her pocket. 

“Wow.” 

“How are you finding Columbus?” Ann asked. “It must be quite a change from Oxford and Cairo.” 

Shazia laughed. “In many ways, yes. But it’s actually been an easier adjustment than I expected. People have been very welcoming. There are lots of international students here.” 

Peter held up the wine bottle and Shazia shook her head. She set down her water glass. “If you don’t mind, I think I’ll go lie down. I have a terrible headache.” 

“Of course.” Ann wiped her hands on a dishtowel. “Let me show you your room and get you some towels. Peter, would you dish the girls up?” 

She said it so casually. Dish the girls up. One of the shorthand expressions they used to use all the time. Surprising how nostalgic he felt hearing it again. Staying here was going to be more difficult than he’d realized. He watched Ann climb the stairs, her voice floating lightly down as she talked to Shazia, showing her around, welcoming her into what would be her home, too, for a little while. 
After dinner, peter stood in the doorway of maddie’s room. Dishes clattered from the kitchen below as Ann cleaned up. 

Shazia was in the guest room down the hall. He heard the soft murmur of her voice and guessed she was on the phone. 

He put his hands on his hips. “You’re sure you brushed your teeth, Maddie?” 

She giggled from where she lay in bed. “Yes, Daddy.” 

“Because I’m not coming in if you haven’t.” 

“I have. I swear.” 

“With toothpaste?” 

“With toothpaste.” 

“All right then.” He reached down to turn on the nightlight, then straightened and switched off the overhead light. The room was bathed in a soft glow. He made his way to her bed and sat down beside her. 

Maddie lay back against her pillow and looked up at him seriously. His eyes adjusted to the darkness, and now he could see her features, the rounded curves of her cheeks, the sleepy slants of her eyes so like Ann’s. He’d noticed that she’d lost another tooth, a bottom one along the side. What was the Tooth Fairy bringing these days? The going rate used to be five bucks. Once they couldn’t rummage up enough bills between them to slide under seven- year- old Kate’s pillow. In triumph, he had produced a Lowe’s gift card. So much laughter. They should have saved some of it for the years to come. 

Maddie said, “My teacher told us that birds are making people sick.” 

“ Uh- huh.” 

She frowned. “You’re around birds all the time.” 

“Well, that’s true. But I wear a special suit. Did you know that?” 

“Like Superman?” 

“No. It has a mask and goggles to keep infection from getting through and gloves to protect my hands. Sometimes I put on white overalls so I don’t spread the infection around.” 

“And you wear that all the time?” 

“Oh, yes. Whenever I go in the field. I keep all that stuff in my truck.” 

“Do we need suits? Kate, Mommy, and me?” 

“No. I don’t think so.” He brushed the hair back from her forehead. 

“Now I lay me down to sleep.” 

“I pray the Lord my soul to keep. May God’s love be with me through the night and wake me with the morning light.” She yawned and smiled up at him. 

He kissed her cheek, so soft and warm. He’d missed this. “Good night, Maddie girl.” 

He was at her doorway when she spoke up again. 

“Daddy?” 

“Hmm?” 

“Are you and Mom still having a divorce?” 

Poor Maddie. This turn of events must be so confusing for her. “Yes, sweetheart,” he said gently. “We are.” 

Kate was a mound of blankets in the deep gloom of her bedroom, leaning up against her headboard, waiting for him. “Hey,” she said as he sat heavily on her bed. 

He leaned forward and kissed the top of her head. “Hey. You ever clean this place?” 

“Only when Mom threatens to take away my phone.” 

She’d been dabbing on perfume again, its sweetness mingling with the fruity aroma of her shampoo and the mint of her toothpaste. He remembered the days when they had to plead with Kate to take a bath. When she was six, they had to stand over her to get her to brush her teeth. 

“How long are you staying?” she asked. 

“Maybe a few days. We’ll see.” 

She bit her lower lip. “This is really serious, isn’t it?” 

“Yes.” 

“People are dying, right?” 

“Yes.” 

“Do you know anyone who’s died?” 

He thought about that, then shook his head. “No one I know of, honey. Certainly no one here.” 

“Are we going to die?” 

He picked up her stuffed owl, limp with age, its beak hanging on by a few stitches. Where had this come from? He hadn’t seen it in years. She leaned forward, and he settled it behind her head. How his daughter could sleep without a pillow was beyond him, but she never complained of a sore neck. “I know things seem to have happened awfully fast. But scientists and governments have been working on this problem for a long time. We knew this was coming. We just didn’t know when. There are all sorts of plans and procedures in place to protect us.” 

“Like closing school?” 

“Exactly. Which is a very smart thing to do. If we can keep people from catching it from one another, we can give scientists time to work on a vaccine.” 

She made a face. “That means a shot.” 

If only it were that simple. 

“Just think,” he said, rising. “No school tomorrow. You can IM to your heart’s content.” 

“No one IMs anymore, Dad.” 

“No?” 

“They text.” 

“Ah.” These were the things he missed so painfully: the lost tooth, the backpack exchanged for a floppy bag, no more chocolate syrup stirred into milk. These next few days would be an unexpected gift, a chance to reconnect with his daughters. “Well, then you can text to your heart’s content.” 

“Right. Tell Mom that.” She yawned and turned over. “Good night, Dad.” 

That was another thing: Dad instead of Daddy. Maybe that was the thing he missed the most. 

Ann was up when peter came into the kitchen early the next morning. She stood by the coffeemaker, her hand on the pot handle, waiting for the water to stop dripping. She wore her old blue terry robe with the sagging pockets, and her hair was mussed. She wasn’t one for predawn conversation, so he was surprised when she spoke. “Coffee?” 

“Please.” He’d missed her coffee. Every pot he brewed was either bitter sludge or tasteless brown water. 

“Sleep okay?” 

“Fine.” 

“Really.” She handed him a mug, the one Kate had painted at a long- ago birthday party, the orange happy face faded now from so many washings. “Beth says that sofa’s a medieval torture device.” Ann’s sister had known what she was talking about. There was a certain pernicious spring that dug into his ribs whenever he turned over. “It’s like the Four Seasons compared to the one in my apartment. Speaking of which, I’m going to head in and grab some clothes.” 

She nodded toward the television set playing quietly in the family room. “They’re reporting a few cases in Mexico now.” 

Already?
He lifted his mug so she couldn’t see his expression. Mexico was close. There were all sorts of migrations between Mexico and the United States, human and otherwise. So the latest modeling studies had been correct: restricting air travel had had little effect on containing the spread of the virus. 

She poured coffee into a second mug and pushed the pot back onto the burner. “Nothing in Egypt, though. Did Shazia reach her parents?” 

“Not that I know of.” He drank some coffee. No cream, of course, but he could make do with some milk. 

“They must be so worried. Well, maybe they’ll talk today.” She sipped her coffee. “Hamburgers sound okay for dinner?” 

“Sure.” He’d forgotten this, the way- too- early decision- making about what to have for dinner. He didn’t care what they ate. He never had, but Ann had always needed to regiment her day into segments. Errand time, laundry time, mealtime. It was how she’d coped as a stay- at- home mother. He wondered if things were different now that she’d gone back to work. 

He reached into the refrigerator for the milk. “How are you for cash?” 

“The ATMs were cleaned out by the time we got to the bank.” 

“They should be up and running now. I’ll get water, too.” 

“It was horrible last night.” 

“Sounds like it.” At least she’d come away with only a bruised shin. It could have been worse. 

“That shooting at Kroger?” She shook her head. “They said on the news that it was over a parking space.” 

He couldn’t believe it, either. “Well, things should have calmed down.” He was here now. If anyone would be going to the store, it would be him. “Ann?” 

She looked over. 

“You know we can’t let the girls play with their friends.” 

“For the whole three months, do you think?” 

“We’ll have to take it a day at a time.” 

“It’s going to be so hard on them. Especially Kate.” 

“It’s better than the alternative.” 

She looked at him over the rim of her cup and nodded. traffic was fairly light until he neared the airport. 

Then the highway jittered with cars, brake lights flashing irritably, no doubt filled with students trying desperately to get home. An airplane thundered across the sky, its lights twinkling red and white in the darkness. Peter broke free of the backup and headed for the side streets. Here, the neighborhoods were still half- asleep, just a few cars working their way down the road. People yawned at bus stops and slumped against walls, waiting for rides. 

Up ahead, Tower West rose against the lavender sky, dark except for the bright band of light that glowed through the glass of the first- floor lobby windows. Cars packed the lot and overflowed onto the grassy spaces between the buildings. A uniformed man was just coming out of the building. The guard from last night. Peter recognized the weary set of his shoulders. He slowed and rolled down his window. 

“We’re full up,” the man said in response to Peter’s question. 

“We had to turn away a lot of kids. They just kept coming.” He shook his head, his gaze distant. “You plan for the worst. And then when the worst happens, you find out just how useless your planning was.” 

Ten blocks away, a brick apartment building held down the corner, squat and square. The lobby doors stood open. The building manager was a stickler for keeping them locked. Peter stepped inside and listened. A television muttered in the apartment to his left. 

Bikes leaned against the wall. Normal. He shrugged and closed the door behind him. Taking the stairs to the second floor, he unlocked the far door on the right. Here, too, everything appeared the same. The narrow bed in the corner, its covers pulled taut. The battered table that served as both nightstand and kitchen table, holding a gooseneck lamp, coffeepot, and alarm clock. The folding chair in the opposite corner beside the small bookcase. The framed photographs of the girls, Maddie’s duck painting taped to the wall. He’d left the drapes half- open. Pale sun streamed across the worn carpet. He filled his suitcase and slung some things into a duffel bag. He unplugged the television and DVD player, and drew the curtains shut. He stood and stared around at the small space, his home for more than a year. 

Out in the hallway, a man and a woman trooped up the stairs toward him. He recognized them as his next- door neighbors, both college students. Peter had learned to work late on weekend nights to avoid the inevitable parties and to close his ears to their earlymorning lovemaking. They pressed themselves against the wall to let Peter and his bags squeeze past. 

“Take care,” the woman said. 

First time she’d ever spoken to him. It sounded so final. Peter nodded. “You too.” 

She continued up the stairs, the man’s arm around her shoulders. The streets had perked up during his brief absence. The coffee shop on the corner was doing a brisk business. People thronged the patio and overflowed onto the sidewalk, chatting as they waited for their morning brew. People swooped past on bikes. Others walked hand in hand down the sidewalks. Downtown was beginning to have a carnival air about it, everyone hanging out, enjoying the unexpected day off from school and work. 

Peter shook his head and loaded his bags into the back of the pickup. 

He drove by playgrounds that an hour before had been empty. Kids ran everywhere, calling out to one another. Their parents stood in idle clusters, rocking strollers and no doubt negotiating how to manage this day and all the suddenly school- free days to follow. Movie theaters would be swamped. So would the mall, fastfood restaurants, the library, and rec center, anyplace that welcomed kids. A mistake. 

This wasn’t the time for celebration. These people shouldn’t be standing out here, laughing, gossiping. He considered stopping, rolling down his window, and telling them to go home. But of course he didn’t. They wouldn’t listen. They’d think he was a madman. “listen to this.” shazia sat on the floor in the corner of the den, laptop balanced on her knees, her hair loose about her shoulders. She was playing with her barrette, snapping and unsnapping it. “RNL is working on a vaccine.” 

“Who isn’t?” Peter looked back to his computer screen and typed a few commands. He had to download his lectures for the week and then post the exam. It was all master’s- level work. At that point, students could be expected to follow the honor system. “But it looks like they may have something. They’ve already moved on to Phase Two of clinical trials.” 

Peter swiveled in his chair to look at her. “Really?” 

She nodded. “A Dr. Liederman’s leading it.” 

“Albert Liederman?” 

“You know him?” 

“My old doctoral advisor. I haven’t talked to him in months.” Which had been a worry. Over the course of the past year, Liederman had stopped attending conferences and returning phone calls. Peter had thought the old fellow was slowing down, but now it seemed he had simply diverted his energies elsewhere. “I’ve been after him for years to write a memoir about the ’78 influenza outbreak. We came that close to a full- blown pandemic.” He held up his thumb and forefinger pinched together. 

“In 1978?” 

She had probably never even heard about it. Few people had. “You should hear him talk about it. That guy could send shivers down your spine.” 

But talk was all Liederman would do. How many times had he grumbled, “I can’t write a book, Brooks. That’s your job.” Peter leaned back in his chair. “He gave me his notes a while ago. Told me to take a crack at putting together a book. Maybe you could help me organize the material.” 

“I’d like that.” 

He saw a movement out of the corner of his eye, and he looked over to see Ann standing in the doorway of the den. “Want to light the grill?” 

Shazia set down her laptop. “I’ll help.” 

“Stay put.” Peter waved his hand. “Tonight I’m cooking.” Shazia looked at him. “That’ll be nice.” 

He knew what she was thinking. What kind of dish could she expect from a guy who ate from vending machines and take-out restaurants? 

Peter walked beside Ann down the hall. “I might have found Shazia a place. The school’s going to open up Baldwin Hall. I persuaded them to take her even if she’s not on the official list.” 

“It’s too bad she won’t be with her roommate.” 

“There’ll be other international students there. She’ll know someone.” 

Maddie sprawled on her belly in front of the television set. He had no idea what shows were her favorites these days. He’d never seen this particular one before, something involving preteen girls arguing with a man in a hotel uniform. He stopped beside the couch where Kate sat, laptop propped before her. His old computer, outdated but powerful enough for her to play around on. “Who are you talking to?” 

She answered without looking up. “Michele. Claire. John. Andrea. Scooter.” 

He looked over at Ann. “John? Scooter?” These weren’t names he’d heard before. What kind of name was Scooter? He couldn’t even tell what gender it belonged to. 

“John is Michele’s boyfriend.” Ann handed him a platter of hamburger patties. “And Scooter’s a boy in one of Kate’s classes.” 

Peter looked down at Kate. Pink blossomed across her cheekbones as she stared at her computer screen. He glanced back at Ann. She was frowning slightly. Then she shook her head. Don’t say anything, she was telegraphing, and he nodded. 

So soon. He slid open the screen door and stepped out onto the patio. Too soon. Kate had just turned thirteen. He looked back through the glass at his daughter cross- legged on the sofa, coltish, long brown hair falling forward. She tapped gracefully at the keyboard, her hands all smooth motion, sitting back and laughing. The sight of it made his heart twist. 

He turned the dial and was glad to see the answering flame. He hadn’t thought to check the propane level. He shoveled the burgers onto the grill and set down the empty platter. 

It was a crisp evening, cold enough to cloud his breath into soft puffs. Streetlights burned up and down the dark sidewalks. He’d missed the sunset. 

A dark SUV glided past. The driver lifted his hand in greeting. It was that doctor who lived beside the Guarnieris, what was his name? Singh. That was it. He’d moved into the neighborhood a few months before Peter moved out. They used to nod politely at each other as they crisscrossed their lawns with mowers. The vehicle slowed in front of the driveway and Peter saw a figure step in front of the headlights, followed by a smaller, shaggier shape. 

Walter Finn and his dog. The animal was genial enough, but you couldn’t say the same about the man. Finn was forever circulating petitions against one thing or another: too many weeds in a neighbor’s yard, bikes left scattered across sidewalks, snow going unshoveled, all the petty grievances that sprang up in a suburban community, which most people ignored but onto which Finn fastened greedy claws. 

Peter stabbed at the burgers and flipped them over. 

The dog tugged at his leash, wanting to come over and investigate the meat he was cooking. Finn lifted his head and spotted Peter standing conspicuously against the bright light shining from the kitchen behind him. Peter braced himself for another round of what’s- this- neighborhood- coming- to, but Finn jerked the leash instead and tugged the dog away. 

“Heel, Barney,” he ordered, and the dog shambled over to check out who’d been visiting the tree on the far corner. 

Peter had been afforded a reprieve. Finn must have figured out he wasn’t the go- to guy of the house any longer. Turning back to the grill, he saw Smith standing at his own grill just across the yard. “Dude,” Smith said. “Good to see you.” 

“Been a while.” 

“Crazy times, huh? Libby sent me out for water today, but all I could find was that fizzy designer stuff.” 

“I got lucky at a gas station on Franz. A delivery truck was just unloading when I pulled up. We’ve got extra you can have.” 

“I’ll take you up on that. Libby’s been a wreck about it.” 

They talked back and forth across their patios. Would the NFL adjust to a few missed games? How much farther would the Dow Jones skid before recovering? Was there any end in sight to the price of gas? Libby came out, the baby in her arms, and handed Smith a platter. 

“Hey,” Peter said. 

“Hello,” she said coolly. 

Well, at least she wasn’t pretending he was invisible. This was progress. Peter pushed his luck. “Jacob’s gotten big.” Last time he’d seen the baby, he’d been cradled easily in one arm. Now the kid straddled Libby’s hip, reaching forward with one plump hand for the piece of bun Smith held out. 

Smith said, “Gonna grow up to be a linebacker, just like his old man.” 

The coals glowed softly. The smell of cooked meat rose. Peter pressed the spatula beneath the hamburgers and lifted them onto a plate. Picking up the platter, he dialed off the heat. 

“Hey,” Smith said. “I got an idea. Why don’t you guys come over?” 

An old tradition, combining their cookouts onto one patio or dining room. 

“Smith,” Libby said. 

“Jeez, Libby. Come on. If Ann’s cool with it—” 

“Actually,” Peter said, “Libby’s right. We should probably be keeping our distance.” 

Silence. 

“Christ.” Smith’s voice came to him out of the darkness. “Right. I guess I saw something about that on the news. You really think it’ll do any good?” 

“It’s all we can do.” 

The clatter of a grill lid lowered into place. “Well, good to see you, Peter.” 

“You too.” 

Peter looked around at all the houses, large, dark squares rising out of the ground, windows glowing bright, islands separated by lawns and closed doors. The empty patios, the tables with the chairs stacked and the umbrellas furled. No one else was out enjoying the spate of clear weather. 

He looked back at his own house. Through the glass he saw into the kitchen—Ann reaching down a stack of plates from the cabinet, Maddie collecting her drawing materials, Kate pouring a glass of milk. It all appeared normal, but it wasn’t. Everything had changed. 

From the Hardcover edition.

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Interviews & Essays

A Message from the Author
My parents were restless. By the time I was ten years old, we'd traveled around the world no fewer than five times. No surprise then that I grew up with wanderlust of my own. I married a man who shared my need to explore new towns and was as willing as I was to leave old towns behind. We made and left six homes before we started our own family.

We moved to Maryland while our children were young and stayed for nine years. It was the longest I'd lived anywhere. We bought a home in a family-centric neighborhood with community pools and bike paths. Where one winter, a blizzard shut down the city for five days and I trudged down the middle of the street to the grocery store. I saw five neighbors on the way there, and on my return, recognized a friend driving a snowplow, and convinced him to dig my street out. The day my five year-old disappeared from the front yard, I banged on my neighbor's door and she ran to watch my two year-old while I searched for my son. And when another neighbor's house caught on fire while he was at work, I called him on his cell phone, and met his child at the bus stop. Nine years of carpooling, making meals for sick friends, pitching in when someone was in a terrible accident, or going through a divorce.

Community.

But my husband and I became restless again, and when he got a job offer in Columbus, Ohio, a city where we didn't know a soul, we jumped. We figured it would be a good life lesson for our children to learn how to land on their feet in a new place. We found another family-centric neighborhood with community pools and walking paths, adopted two dogs and settled in.

Our kids were older then, and as a writer working from home, I had fewer opportunities to meet people. My husband worked long hours. My kids got busy leading their lives. And the news was filled with dire predictions about bird flu and how mankind was overdue for another pandemic. I began to worry. What if the worst came to pass and a deadly pandemic developed? Experts predicted a complete collapse of all the systems we relied on to protect us. Hospitals would be overrun. There would be food, water, and gas shortages. People would have to turn to one another to survive. But I didn't have people. I had just me and my husband, and three children who needed us. It felt tragically inadequate.

It was this realization that propelled me to write The Things that Keep Us Here which, at heart, is about a mother alone, trying to keep her family safe. It's about the person she becomes during the process and -- in the end -- is more about the dangers lurking within each of us than the dangers raging outside. --Carla Buckley
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Customer Reviews

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( 50 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 50 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 15, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Will Make You Think

    Peter and Ann Brooks are married but separated when H5N1 Avian Flu hits the global human race. The virus travels and mutates so quickly that is kills 1 out of every 2 people it touches and causes communities all over the world to take drastic matters in order to survive. When their own sleepy town goes into quarantine, their two girls, Kate and Maddie, have a hard time dealing with the isolation and many deaths around them.

    This is a gripping story- very sad, and all too close to home, thanks to the recent H1N1 news. The story quickly builds to the pace of a feverish thriller and keeps you on edge until the very end. The Things That Keep Us Here deals with a distinctly scary issue that makes you think about your own family and how you would react if someday this shocking situation was a reality.

    Buckley will make you believe in the triumph of the human spirit through the worst of times.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 8, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Sad, but true

    A startling look at what our future could bring. An in depth look at getting back to the basics and caring less about material things and more about relationships, caring, and sharing. A must read for everyone. Power and wealth no longer mean anything. Hard work and teamwork are key.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 2, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A gripping plot, likable characters, yet this one falls a bit short of its mark.

    There are a lot of books out right now that deal with the end of the world, or a pandemic of some sort. This one deals with H5N1 and from its name alone, you can imagine the similarities to H1N1. As I was reading, I couldn't help but think about the H1N1 scare here, and how it could have been much, much worse. In this novel, things take a turn for the worse and Ann is forced to make some tough decisions. As a mother, I could easily relate to Ann. The decisions she made were not made easily. They were made out of fear, and an intense desire to keep her family safe. I felt that the author did a good job of making Ann's situation desperate enough for the reader to understand her decisions.

    There is a lot that didn't work for me though. This is a story of survival yet when opportunities present themselves, Ann and her husband Peter, don't always take advantage of them. If there is any chance of your kids starving, you are going to do what you have to do to ensure that they don't. There are moments when they do take advantage of a situation, but not always and the inconsistency bothered me. As I was reading, I found myself asking about water or food or weapons, etc. To me, these things are basic necessities when dealing with a pandemic of this magnitude.

    To me, a couple of the characters really didn't have much of a purpose except to cause conflict between the main characters. One example of this is a young woman named Shazia. As I reader, I never really got to know her and I wondered what her purpose was besides the obvious, which I won't go into as it would give some of the story away. Her character, along with her back story seemed a bit choppy to me and could have been a bit more developed.

    Overall, the situations that I expected to be the most difficult ended up being almost too easy. Too pat. Water becomes an issue and then all of a sudden there's a stash of water at your convenience. Not very believable. A trip to the hospital, in the middle of a pandemic. and she gets in and out in under an hour. Not likely.

    I received this ARC several months ago so I don't know how the final version turned out, but the version that I received was a bit disjointed and could have used a bit more editing. There were some overused passages that could have been weeded out and perhaps a heavier hand could have been used as far as keeping things consistent. Without these distractions, I think I would have enjoyed the book quite a bit more.

    I recently read In a Perfect World, which also deals with a pandemic, but it was much more moving for me than The Things That Keep Us Here. However, I would definitely read something from this author author again as this was Buckley's debut novel and parts of it did show some promise.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The Brooks family trials, tribulations and triumphs serve as a microcosm of what is faced by other people throughout the world

    Peter and Ann Brooks separate after he informs her he does not love her. A year later single mom Ann works and raises their two daughters. She learns that the virulent form of H5N1 virus has reached phase five, leading to the closing of all schools by the feds. Accompanied by her neighbor Ann goes to the store fearing quarantine so she stocks up on necessities. When Ann returns home, she finds her estranged husband and his co-worker Shazia there.

    Ann invites them in to stay for now but in separate beds. The Feds declare the anticipated quarantine in which everyone is to remain indoors. Over time as the pandemic spreads, the people inside the Brooks' home become claustrophobic; food supplies dwindle as she bought for herself and two youngsters and not two additional adults; electricity goes out during a storm; and firewood is low. Ann's best friend is dying from the virus so leaves her son in front of Ann's house. She fears bringing the child inside as the disease is probably incubating inside him, but Peter overrules her. Peter also takes care of a stray dog whose owner died, but Ann resents his using their dwindling food he gives to the child and canine. Everyone remains in danger unless a vaccine is manufactured as half the population is dead, others are dying, and sustenance supplies are becoming scarce.

    The Brooks family trials, tribulations and triumphs serve as a microcosm of what is faced by other people throughout the world. Some become heroic helping the needy; others try to protect their immediate loved ones; and finally those exist who commit legal and moral crimes. Ann owns this apocalyptic thriller as she feels strongly that her kids come before others in an imploding world gone mad; the opposite of Peter. In her debut, Carla Buckley provides a thought-provoking thriller that asks her readers who would they become if civilization somewhat vanished.

    Harriet Klausner

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 4, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Thrilling, Topical and Thought Provoking

    The Things That Keep Us Here by Carla Buckley

    "The Things That Keep Us Here" is a phenomenal debut thriller about what happens to one family when a virulent bird flu pandemic hits the USA. And it has the potential to kill about 50 our of every one hundred that it infects. And then that potential turns to reality.

    This is the story of one broken family coming to grips of the reality that is America during an unseen and unprepared for emergency.

    I've read so far this year, about 250 books.this is the one that I will remember for years to come. I've just finished it and I want to grab it up and start rereading it . It was an utterly amazing book especially for a debut. The characters are so well written that I came to think of them as friends of mine. The plot was very well thought out, fast paced, chilling, thrilling and yet tender. This book preys on our deepest emotions and fears, it also makes us ask the really hard moral and ethical questions of ourselves. It makes us wonder if we could cope just half as well as the Brooks family does. If we would come out of something like this with our sanity even half as intact as they did.

    I look forward to Carla Buckley's next novel.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2013

    Loved this book

    Once I started, I could not stop reading. It felt like i knew these characters

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2013

    Great read

    I loved it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2011

    Breathtaking

    It was amazing with all the twist and turns...im only in 6th grade and i loved it!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2011

    disturbing but in a good way

    Had a hard time putting this book down. Really made me think what if???
    Going to go stock up on canned foods, baby wipes, firewood and a gun.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2011

    LOVE THIS BOOK!! a must have

    I love reading books. I was at school, and I saw that my friend was reading this book. So I saw the author, and she is my friend's mom. I knew I had to read it. So, I got it from my library and I read it. I could not put it down. I showed it to my mom, and she read it. Now my sister is going to read it. Carla Buckley wrote an amazing book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 25, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Loved this book!

    I waited for the price to come down on the ebook and I am so glad it finally came down into a reasonable range... This was a really, really good book...

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2010

    Terrifying possibility

    A pandemic and the unbelievable long-ranging effects. Could this really happen?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 6, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I couldn't put it down!

    This book was great! I wasn't able to stop reading it!

    From page 1, this book draws you in. This book focuses on a family trying to survive a flu pandemic. The trials and tribulations that the family goes through are real, and the panic and pain are written beautifully.

    I encourage everyone to read this book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 14, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Fast Paced and thought provoking

    What would happen to each of us if we only had our immediate family to depend on? After the H5N1 pandemic breaks out killing 50 out 100 people that's exactly what happens. A true dichotomy develops between the pre-pandemic world where a structured civilization existed to the pandemic world where chaos reigns and brings out the worst in each of us.

    I could not put this book down. It was face paced and thought provoking. It might be that the timing of this book and the H1N1 virus out break grabbed my attention, but I think it was more the main character Ann who intrigued me. It made me question, what lengths would I go to protect my family and how quickly would I resort to wild west tactics when the technologically based world I come to depend on ceased to exist.

    I eagerly await Carla Buckley's next novel as "Things That Keep us Here" is truly a great read and one that I will recommend to all my friends.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 5, 2014

    Very good!

    Well written!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 14, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Good read

    Ann and Peter Brooks are just a regular unhappily married couple with two children. Newly separated, Ann is an art teacher at her daughters' school and Peter is a university researcher working on an NIH grant.

    Peter quickly discovers a virulent strain of avian flu that has begun to spread throughout the United States. Called H5N1, this deadliest form of bird flu kills fifty percent of those infected. The ensuing change in the landscape of every part of life is frightening. Schools are closed and all public gatherings suspended. People are urged to stay indoors in their own homes. Gasoline and food are quickly in short supply as people begin to hoard what they can and fight over what they need. A weeks' long power outage following a winter storm makes everything even more difficult, compounding the isolation and fear. Peter is forced to return to the family home with his research assistant whom Ann fears is his lover.

    I don't know why, but I love disaster books and movies. I enjoyed THE THINGS THAT KEEP US HERE even though it's more women's fiction than science fiction. The author's depictions of the growing crisis and Ann's insistence on trying to keep at least a semblance of normality for her daughters are good. Her characterizations are not as strong, but all in all it was a nice book to read. Lynn Kimmerle

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  • Posted June 23, 2010

    A science based post Apocalyptic story for women.

    Synopsis:

    Ann and Peter are separated and going through the process of getting a divorce. Peter has instigated the separation. It's the "I love you but not in love with you" scenario. Ann is suffering from the inevitable repercussions of this, yet is mostly reconciled with the fact.

    They have two healthy girls, one 8 and the other 13, to whom they are devoted. Ann dotes on them while teaching at a local elementary school. Peter is a veterinarian, turned head research professor at the local university. He is studying viral activity between humans and animals - mainly the avian flu.

    Several massive bird die outs are reported locally and Peter is sent to investigate. The sites are visually devastating with thousands of dead birds. Shortly thereafter the US and the entire world go on alert for the virus H5N1. What was once a potential epidemic turns pandemic. People are told to isolate themselves and their families to prevent to spread of this deadly flu.

    Due to some bad luck regarding logistics Peter is reluctantly welcomed to stay at Ann's home with his gorgeous graduate assistant. As the pandemic develops and the local area is quarantined, the story progresses and we see the psychological aspects of each individual as the taken-for-granted social structures meltdown, and everyone struggles to survive psychologically and physically. As they are pushed to their limits, we see their "humanness", as they are forced to deal with horrific events.

    My Personal Thoughts:

    This apocalyptic novel is an absolute page turner. It is something which could potentially happen, which makes the story poignant. I thought the characters felt real. I did not guess how it would end. It has just enough technical information to keep it feeling intellectual and enough emotional insight to make it heart wrenching; all the while considering what it means to be imperfect and human when faced with questionable survival.

    Highly recommended for anyone interested in realistic apocalyptic scenarios and for readers who like a bit of science as well as internal conflict in their reading. I would define this as a woman's science fiction book, not to say men would not enjoy it. I give The Things That Keep Us Here - 4 stars, perhaps more since the ARC copy I read understandably felt unfinished in parts.

    I am excitedly looking forward to Carla's next novel coming out in 2011. I believe the title is Invisible.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2010

    What a detailed description of what life can soon become! Awesome book!

    Carla Buckley has written one of the most engrossing, and fasinating books that I have read in a long time. The in depth descriptions of her characters pull at your heart strings and you want to cheer for the family and try to help save them. Then it brings out questions in your own life, what would I do if the H5n1 flu hit our world. Do I have enough food to survive? Do I have enough medical supplies etc. I will tell you, I do now! This is a must read book. This is reality! Carla Buckley is a master storyteller. I can't wait for her next book to come out!

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  • Posted March 28, 2010

    Survival

    Survival- I love fiction books that teach me something. This book fits that bill. From the beginning you know what we are up against. It was informative about what it would take to survive a flu outbreak.
    You also have to ask yourself what you would do if to protect your children. How far would you go? You would probably do just about anything. This story goes into just that.
    I'm drawn to survival type books but this one has more as it draws you into the marriage and friendships of the man character.
    REad it for the story, read it for the information you gain about avian flu

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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