Review: The After Days by Amy Ginsburg

I received a copy of this book from the author, through a friend who lives in the DC area.  Ginsburg’s story of what happens in a Maryland suburb during a world-wide power outage was pretty fascinating, although the premise requires a bit of a leap: terrorists have banded together to attack power grids covering most of the world, and no one can figure out how to get the power back on.

Ginsburg tells a riveting and frightening story that will have you seriously thinking about how prepared you are for an emergency. The story centers around two middle-aged couples living in suburban Maryland.  Rachel and Julie are good friends, but they barely tolerate Julie’s husband Christopher (and isn’t that how couple friendships often work?). As the story begins, Julie and Rachel are on the subway when it suddenly goes dark — something that happens here pretty often.

The fascinating part of this story is how quickly civilization breaks down during the outage.  There’s little communication, stores are looted, and there’s barely anything in the way of law enforcement or medical assistance.

I appreciated that this book was set near where I live.  A town of mostly government employees and lawyers, the DC area has a definite personality.  We tend to be highly-educated and super-organized (you might choose other words to describe us), but I’d rank most of us pretty low on real practical survival skills.  So as I read this book I sometimes thought about things like “why aren’t they foraging or hunting for food” and then I thought, maybe it’s realistic that most of us wouldn’t know what to do if we couldn’t buy our food from a store shelf.

I liked Ginsburg’s focus on the friendship in this novel, and the emotional dilemmas that the characters go through.  The characters are regular people, not superheroes, that I could identify with.  Ginsburg focuses on the emotional trauma that comes with a crisis situation.  For example, the characters have to defend themselves and their limited supplies, from neighbors and even children. Then they have to deal with the consequences of defending themselves.

One weakness of the book, though, was in the characterization of the two husbands.  While the two women are portrayed with strengths and imperfections, Zach is just a little too perfect, and Christopher’s character becomes increasingly one-note as the book progresses. 

I really liked the way Ginsburg focuses on the mundane details of life in a prolonged power outage, like how to go to the bathroom when there’s no running water, and how to make food and water last as long as possible.  But I also wanted to know more about what was happening.  We don’t learn anything about how the government is trying to address the problem.  There are short vignettes through out the book that I think are meant to provide this kind of information, but I didn’t find them terribly meaningful.  

Unlike most post-apocalyptic stories where the characters get on the road and explore, these characters mostly hole up in their houses. One of their greatest issues is boredom (the fear of running out of books to read is a particularly DC problem and would send most of us running for the hills).  It felt realistic that these characters felt so isolated; yet I still wondered why there weren’t more efforts to work together, to communicate, and to share resources.

I described this book to my husband, who said it sounded like “survivalist fantasy.”  I’m not sure what that means exactly, but this book definitely got me thinking about what I’d need to survive in a crisis.  For example, at one point the characters are trying to get to a local destination, Fort Meade.  Would I even know where that is without a working GPS?  Are there paper maps in my home in case I need them?  I’ll think twice about throwing out next phone book that shows up on my doorstep.

I recommend this for those who like realistic post-apocalyptic fiction, and who are looking for something more character-driven than action-driven.  You won’t find any demons or zombies or vampires in this book, which makes it a bit unusual.  Stephen King’s The Stand is still my favorite in the world-is-ending category, though I also really liked Oryx and Crake and Station Eleven.  

Thanks to Ginsburg for the complimentary copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review. It was published by The AG Group on July 10, 2019.

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