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review 2020-03-19 15:23
"Past This Point" by Nicole Mabry – set in an epidemic-ridden New York City – timely and emotional.
Past This Point - Nicole Mabry

I picked this up two weeks ago because I loved the cover and because Yodamom liked it.

 

I didn't realise how much of a topical read it would turn out to be. "Past This Point" is about the struggles of a woman in self-imposed exile in a New York City after the Eastern Seaboard has been quarantined following the outbreak of a killer virus. The day I started it, the Governor of New York declared a state of emergency because of the rate of COVID-19 infection.

 

At the start of the book, I thought I was getting a slightly more nightmarish version of current events. The writing felt functional but accessible and kept everything moving along. The main character was very easy to identify with and root for. And she had a dog so everything was good.

 

I soon realised that this wasn't a typical read for me. The main character was nicer than the main character in most of the books I read and the whole thing had a wholesome feel that I hadn't noticed was missing from almost everything I read.

 

I found myself being amazed that the, otherwise sensibly cautious, heroine trusted the government enough to register online for testing even after the possibility of a quarantine was announced. I was even more surprised that the Federal Government turned out to be trustworthy, competent and intent on saving lives.

 

I twitched a little when the writing turned too mushy for comfort, sentimental descriptions of being in tears - water fell from my eyes kind of thing - that felt too decorous for me.

 

Yet, as I read on, I'm finding myself becoming differently engaged with these characters than I normally am when I'm reading an apocalyptic story. I believed in them and I cared about them and I wasn't at all confident that they'd survive.

 

It's made me realise that I've been conditioned to expect a particular kind of behaviour from characters who are surviving a crisis. I expect them to maintain an emotional distance, to do what needs to be done and not allow themselves the luxury of moral scruples. The subtext of many of these novels is that ruthlessness is the key to survival. It also helps if you're an ex-ranger or former navy seal or have some kind of martial arts training or perhaps a paranormal capability that gives you an edge. Then you use your skills to win. It's assumed that you know what winning means and that winning is worth the price and that we should cheer when you use the edge that you have over others to make it through.

 

"Past This Point" comes at the whole thing differently. The heroine has no special abilities apart from being happy with her own company, having a practical frame of mind and a habit of taking responsibility for herself. She feels the strain of surviving: the fear, the isolation, the helplessness and wonders whether she is starting to lose her mind.

 

The main difference is that she's not ruthless. She hasn't created an emotional distance between her and her situation. She won't abandon her dog. She does what she can for the two little girls with the dying mother in the building opposite. She calls home and gets encouragement from her mother and practical advice on how to jimmy a lock from her dad. She remains the same person she was before the crisis.

 

To my surprise, the consequence of all this is to increase the emotional impact of the story. She doesn't keep an emotional distance, so neither can I. I have to take in what it would really feel like to be in this situation.

 

Which may explain why, without any overt violence in the first third of the book - no hoard of living dead, no ravening reavers, no gangs of slavers - this story felt heartbreaking while the other stories felt more like watching a videogame play out.

The violence did eventually arrive but it was at a realistic, human level that actually gave it more impact. No superpowers or specialist skills were needed, just personal bravery, a lot of determination and a little luck.

 

The scenes with the two little girls in the building opposite that our heroine talks to every day and who we know from the beginning are doomed, had me in tears.

 

I was totally immersed for the first three-quarters of the book. I'd been enjoying myself, if occasionally being made to sob as someone dies counts as enjoyment. I'd become quite engaged with the main character (although  I'd assumed she was late-twenties not late-thirties - do thirty-eight-year-old-women really call their parents for advice on how to jimmy a door with a crowbar) when the Englishman arrived I got but bumped out of the story a little by some details that don't work.

 

Our heroine rescued an Englishman who had been beaten and left for dead in front of her apartment (I liked that role reversal) and it was immediately clear that he was going to be the love interest. I had hoped to get to the end of the novel without that but I was up for it if it was well done, which it was until the details the Englishman shared about his background stopped working. Being English, I found it very distracting that his background demonstrated so little knowledge of England.

 

He's from a wealthy hotelier family. He describes himself as spending weekends at "our country house" in Surrey. Someone brought up to this lifestyle would be more like to say "our house in the country". Then he says that when the weather was nice:

"My father and I would fish and hunt ducks".

I can imagine the fishing but duck hunting in Surrey is extremely unlikely. It's illegal to shoot at ducks in the UK unless you're shooting at a flight, which would normally be around dawn. You only get flights of ducks in a much wilder, less densely populated counties than Surrey. If you were going hunting with a gun, it would be more likely that you'd be culling deer.

 

Then, presumably to show his humane side, he talks about changing the way his parents bought dogs. He says:

"I refused to allow my parents to buy the purebreds they’d always gotten before."

The English don't buy purebred dogs. They buy pedigree dogs and this use of "gotten" is at best Transatlantic English.

 

This is all small stuff and not at all important to the story BUT, if you choose to use a character from another country then it's best if you pick one you're familiar with or get someone who comes from there to guide you.

 

I did get back into the story and I enjoyed the ingenuity that the pair showed in trying to make it to the edge of quarantine zone to see if they would be allowed out but the last part of the novel felt less real and less intense to me.

 

Perhaps that was partly because real-life made this book, written in 2019, feel overly optimistic. The main character is shocked by a death toll of 250,000 people. I expect COVID-19 to kill that many here in the UK. For the whole of the Eastern Seaboard, it feels like a win.

 

Nevertheless, this was a solid, well-thought-through, read with a strong emotional punch and a fresh view on how real people react in a crisis.

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text 2020-03-12 16:25
Reading progress update: I've read 69%. -the problem of imagining countries other people live in.
Past This Point - Nicole Mabry

I've been enjoying this book, if occasionally being made to sob as someone dies counts as enjoyment. I've become quite engaged with the main character (although  I'd assumed she was late-twenties not late-thirties) but I've just been bumped out of the story a little by some details that don't work.

 

Our heroine has now met an Englishman and they've reached a point where they're trading backgrounds. It's mostly well done and I was reading along smoothly when the details of the Englishman's life stopped working.

 

He's from a wealthy hotelier family. He describes himself as spending weekends at "our country house" in Surrey. Someone brought up to this lifestyle would be more like to say "our house in the country". Then he says that when the weather was nice:

 

"My father and I would fish and hunt ducks".

 

I can imagine the fishing but duck hunting in Surrey is extremely unlikely. It's illegal to shoot at ducks in the UK unless you're shooting at a flight, which would normally be around dawn. You only get flights of ducks in much wilder, less densely populated counties than Surrey. If you were going hunting with a gun, it would be more likely that you'd be culling deer.

 

Then, presumably to show his humane side, he talks about changing the way his parents bought dogs. He says:

 

"I refused to allow my parents to buy the purebreds they’d always gotten before."

 

The English don't buy purebred dogs. They buy pedigree dogs and this use of "gotten" is at best Transatlantic English.

 

This is all small stuff and not at all important to the story BUT, if you choose to use a character from another country then it's best if you pick one you're familiar with or get someone who comes from there to guide you.

 

When I first went to the US, I was amazed at how poorly reading books and watching movies had prepared me for the reality of day to day life and at how much that day to day life varied according to the State I was in.  The difference in the use of language in two English speaking countries is enormous but the difference in the things they take for granted about what they do in their time off is a chasm that it's hard to cross, partly because you only notice it when you fall into it.

 

 

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text 2020-03-10 15:43
Reading progress update: I've read 35%. - this packs an emotional punch
Past This Point - Nicole Mabry

This isn't a typical read for me. The main character is nicer than most of the books I read and the whole thing has a wholesome feel that I hadn't noticed was missing from almost everything I read. Sometimes this makes me twitch a little as it crosses the line into sentimental descriptions of being in tears - water fell from my eyes kind of thing - too decorous for me.

 

Yet, as I read on, I'm finding myself becoming differently engaged with these characters than I normally am when I'm reading an apocalyptic story. I believe in them and I care about them and I'm not at all confident that they'll survive.

 

It's made me realise that I've been conditioned to expect a particular kind of behaviour from characters who are surviving a crisis. I expect them to maintain an emotional distance, to do what needs to be done and not allow themselves the luxury of moral scruples. The subtext of many of these novels is that ruthlessness is the key to survival. It also helps if you're an ex-ranger or former navy seal or have some kind of martial arts training or perhaps a paranormal capability that gives you an edge. Then you use your skills to win. It's assumed that you know what winning means and that winning is worth the price and that we should cheer when you use the edge that you have over others to make it through.

 

"Past This Point" comes at the whole thing differently. The heroine has no special abilities apart from being happy with her own company, having a practical frame of mind and a habit of taking responsibility for herself. She feels the strain of surviving: the fear, the isolation, the helplessness and wonders whether she is starting to lose her mind.

 

The main difference is that she's not ruthless. She hasn't created an emotional distance between her and her situation. She won't abandon her dog. She does what she can for the two little girls with the dying mother in the building opposite. She calls home and gets encouragement from her mother and practical advice on how to jimmy a lock from her dad. She remains the same person she was before the crisis.

 

To my surprise, the consequence of all this is to increase the emotional impact of the story. She doesn't keep an emotional distance, so neither can I. I have to take in what it would really feel like to be in this situation.

 

Which may explain why, without any overt violence so far - no hoard of living dead, no ravening reavers, no gangs of slavers - this story is heartbreaking while the other stories are more like watching a videogame play out.

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review 2020-03-09 16:40
Talk About Mirroring Real Life
Past This Point - Nicole Mabry

I stayed up till 3am reading this, I had to know what happened to the characters. This book shadows the current events in the world  with the coronavirus worldwide outbreak. It was so creepy, I had goosebumps on more than one occasion with newscaster saying almost the same words, the government saying the same things, the reality of the characters actions we spot on. While reading this I kept hoping this wasn't a premonition, it's that realistic. I was riveted by her story, scared, and horrified, in the ned I was glad to have known her.

Karis is a woman living in New York with her dog living a semi hermit lifestyle when a virus breaks out and people start to die. The advice is to quarantine yourself, cover your mouth when you sneeze, wash your hands, but death still comes. Alone as the the world come apart around her she creates a world inside her apartment, she befriends a couple kids across in another building, she reads, works out, talks to her parents in CA and her dog.  She starts surviving and doing the hardest of things to live another day and hope for a way to make it home to her family in CA. Things are really bad, but not as bad as they will get.

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text 2020-03-08 17:58
Reading progress update: I've read 10%.
Past This Point - Nicole Mabry

I needed something new and different today, so I started this book on the basis of Yodamom's status update and the wonderful cover.

 

The plot feels like a slightly more nightmarish version of current events. The writing is functional but accessible and keeps everything moving along. The main character is very easy to identify with and root for. And she has a dog. 

 

So, I'm set up to read for the next few hours.

 

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