Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Leftovers

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta (2011)
 After millions of people around the world simultaneously disappear into thin air, the residents of the little town of Mapleton are shell-shocked but struggle to go on. Some are convinced that the Sudden Departure was the Rapture foretold in the Bible; others feel it was more random, based on the religions and perceived morality of those who are gone and those who are left behind. Some colorful cults have sprung up such as Guilty Remnants, the Barefoot People, and the Healing Huggers.

The novel focuses on one family in particular, which remained intact, but not untouched, by the event. Kevin, Laurie, Tom and Jill Garvey were all left behind, though they all know people who disappeared. Instead of learning on each other their family becomes fractured. Kevin appears unscathed and becomes the town's mayor. Laurie and Tom both end up leaving and joining cults, while Jill remains behind feeling alone and lost.

Most people are unable to connect with each other, and they can’t even really mourn for those who they’ve lost because they do not know where they are. Are they dead? Are they just somewhere else? What if they return just as suddenly? Up until the very end I found the characters’ motives unclear and their actions unpredictable. It is a town of people who have been stripped of eveything they believed and are trying to rebuild their lives and find some way to go on, stumbling, changing tactics, then heading off in another direction in search of some purpose, or at least relief.

Although the writing is relatively upbeat and not without moments of humor, at the end I was left feeling haunted and sad. The people in this town cannot reclaim what they lost, or even explain what happened- how can they go on without knowing if they will again suddenly be completely gobsmacked? Will life just go on, or is there a part two to this event as some of the cults insist? They cannot obtain closure.

I'm struck by how many reviews insist on referring the event as the Rapture, when even Perrotta describes it as a "Rapture-like event." Indeed, it is never explained in the book and there is a reason for that - the story is about how people behave and cope (or don't) after a major catastrophe they cannot explain. Well played, Tom Perrotta.

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