A review by Nalini Haynes
Terrorists hold Anna hostage in a travel agency in Sydney. Nat, a veteran who toured Afghanistan, watches, feeling responsible. He and his army buddies chat on social media, talking about going in to rescue the hostages. In the end the police rescue Anna. Seriously injured but alive, Anna, the sole survivor, needs to heal, here in the after. And she needs to heal in more ways than one.
After a (realistic) false start, Nat and Anna develop an unusual relationship, initially based on their traumas that alienate them from their loved ones. Thus begins the healing process.
Anna and Nat both have PTSD, they both suffer flashbacks and panic attacks but in different ways. Frith clearly understands PTSD, trauma and healing. Although the character arcs are necessarily (unrealistically) short, this narrative can give hope and guidance to others. Also Here In The After may enlighten friends and family, helping them understand and better support trauma sufferers.
Having said that, Frith describes violence – the stuff of nightmares – and subsequent panic attacks realistically. Although Frith is no Tarantino wannabe (thank goodness), those suffering trauma may wish to read with support. Certainly heed this as a trigger warning.
Dogs and other family members
One of the features of Here In The After that I dearly love is Frith’s depiction of dogs. Anna had a dog who died a few years ago. She’d decided not to get a replacement because she planned to travel (hence being in the travel agency that fateful day). However, post-trauma her life is much more circumscribed. Anna also finds great comfort in her toddler grandson because he’s not demanding in the way of adults. She decides to rescue a dog, who gives her great comfort.
Nat experiences pet therapy too. Here In The After suggests Nat might consider a service dog to help him with his trauma.
Marion Frith discusses meeting veterans with service dogs to support them while dealing with PTSD in this podcast interview. Her depiction of familial tensions and finding solace in unusual people (toddlers and dogs are people!) are realistic, complex and heartwarming. You’d almost think Frith was a registered family mediator or something .
Early portions of Here In The After were challenging for me, a domestic violence survivor, to read. However, the blurb emphasized healing and Frith’s characters are compelling. I devoured this novel. Afterwards I pondered the characters, dynamics and healing process.
Frith’s depiction of the healing process justifies acquiring fur babies, of which I currently have two. They are both rescue kitties, one of whom was rubbing against my legs asking for pats while I wrote this review. (It took twice as long as it should have thanks to interruptions .) My seeing eye dog is still in training but if wishes were doggos I’d have a pack already. I digress.
I highly recommend Here In The After as contemporary fiction delving into social issues with a middle aged to elderly protagonist and an army veteran (unusual in itself). If you’ve experienced trauma but still feel the need to justify acquiring a fur baby, you totally need to read this book!
Note: I put Here In The After in the “LGBTQIA” category because Marion Frith is an “elder” of that tribe. However, I don’t recall any overtly Queer character.
Below is the link to my interview of Marion.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Imprint: HarperCollins AU
Format: paperback, 320 pages
Category: fiction, social issues