Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes. 


Deer appear repeatedly in this novel, starting in the first chapter when they are referred to as idiotic because of how they run into traffic. In Chapter 2, Amanda sees a mother deer and two fawns and thinks that they mirror her, Archie, and Rose. However, the deer prove to be much smarter in this emergency than the humans are. They have enough sense to gather for a mass migration to safer ground, while the humans simply panic, waste their resources, and shelter in place. In Chapter 13, when Rose sees dozens of deer in the woods, the recurring motif becomes a chilling omen of impending disaster. Danny, G. H.’s know-it-all contractor, is the one to point out that the animals are migrating. Their instincts have been more useful in this situation than the electronic communication system humans created to displace their instincts.  

The Brick House 

The vacation house gives an illusion of safety because of its solid construction. The first time Amanda and Clay feel fear in this deceptively safe-looking house is when G. H. and Ruth knock on the door in Chapter 6. Amanda feels let down by this house constructed of “the very material the smartest little piggy chose because it would keep him safest.” In addition to offering an illusion of safety, the house is also the bone of contention between the two couples, who vie with each other over ownership rights. “We wanted to be in our house. Safe,” says G. H. Little do they know that they cannot shut out the dangers of the world, no matter how solid the house is.  


Food is such an important motif in this novel that Chapter 3 is half-filled with a list of the groceries Amanda buys on her shopping spree. In the early chapters, food is associated with the indulgence of being on vacation. Later, because of their anxiety and stress, all the adults consume more food than usual, trying to distract themselves from their fears. Rose makes a cake on the day Archie falls ill, again providing distraction and a semblance of normalcy. The reckless emptying of the fridge by G. H. after they see the flamingos in the pool contrasts with the careful inspection of his stockpile of nonperishable foods. When Rose ransacks the house in the woods, she too takes stock of the food supply in its pantry.  The over-abundance of food throughout the novel, and the binge-eating indulged in specifically by Amanda, is an ironic reminder that food will soon become a scarce resource.