on July 26, 2011
EDIT: For those liking the TV show and interested in reading this book, I can tell you that they are pretty different. The show is more in your face, the book more subtle. That doesn't mean you shouldn't read the book too, but please know they are quite different including different characters. Also, if you are looking for the Christian Rapture in this book, you will be disappointed.
My only experience with Perrotta prior to this was two movies - Little Children, which I liked, and Election which I didn't. (EDIT: Re-watched Election, liked it much better the 2nd time.) His books definitely seem like something up my alley, but I'd never been compelled to pick one up.
This one sounded ideal for me. I love the different portrayals authors make of those "left behind" or in this case, "Leftover."
The prologue, for me, was genius. Absolutely hilarious. I thought it was setting the stage for what was going to be an uproarious social satire. It was not. Though there were moments of humor beyond the start, they were few and far between. What I found most about this book was that it was subtle.
For a long while it felt to me like "The Stepford Wives: The Rapture Years". I'm not a plot point type of reviewer, so this is nothing that you can't read on the jacket copy. There was an event, and a lot people disappeared from the planet. But this isn't some kind of 12 Monkey's type world. It's about normal people, with cell phones and jobs, coming to terms with what happened, and moving on with their lives. The aftermath of the aftermath if you will.
I was feeling really critical of the book because for a long time it felt so emotionless. Some people lost entire families, yet there was no grief. I didn't feel connected to anybody, and the back of the book said "a colorful cast of characters" and I just wasn't getting it, at all (with one minor exception.)
And then it sort of transcended and all came together. And what felt subtle and emotionless as I was going through it, left me feeling ultimately as though I'd been on an emotional journey the whole time.
Being unfamiliar with Perrotta's work, I'm not sure if this is par for his course. But I think that this book has potential to feel disappointing at points through the course of reading it. If it feels like that, I'd encourage you to stick with it. The book rarely veers from its subtlety, and I'm not promising a great ending ... But the way in which it evolved was quite masterful.
on July 24, 2012
I was so excited by the prospect of reading this book after hearing an interview with the author. The concept sounded amazingly original, fresh, loaded with possibilities for exploring religious, societal and personal themes. I've never been more disappointed by a book. It's actually painful what he did with the execution.
After creating this extraordinary setting of a Rapture-like event, but one that also contradicted the expected features of the Rapture, Perrotta then sort of drops the whole business. Oh, there's plenty of grief over lost relatives and friends--which Perrotta, with his unpretentious, easy-to-read but slightly flat writing style, can't make the reader quite feel--but this could just as well have been a story about the aftermath of an epidemic of cholera sweeping the nation. It''s a story about a few people from a town trying to cope when they've lost loved ones. That's all. The whole idea of the mystery of what happens when millions of people simply vanish (apparently, wearing their clothes; interesting, huh?) and its ties with certain religious beliefs, that's pretty much ignored. What's the point? Some people join cults, though only in one case does it sound remotely reasonable that this might actually attract people. Teenagers get messed up. blahblahblah. There is one truly touching moment, when one character gives another a simple gift inscribed with words like "Don't forget me." If Perrotta had grabbed that kind of moment and made many more of them, he might have really had something here.
Whether the characters are religious or not, something supernatural has happened here. You'd expect people to be a little more engaged in trying to figure out what it might mean. Aliens? God? Alien gods? And why isn't anyone remotely fearful about whether there might be a recurrence and that they might lose more people--or vanish themselves? It's a horrifying, scary thought yet also one to open up the mind and soul--for once it has been proven to the entire world that supposedly impossible things do happen. Nope. Nobody gives any of this a thought.
Unlike other readers, I'm not bothered by the lack of a tidy ending. It would rob the book of mystery and power to explain the whole thing away--that is, if it had any mystery or power to start with. I was more bothered by the cute little coincidences. She was JUST about to join the cult when along came....She was JUST about to leave town when along came....
I'd love to see this book undergo a Rapture-like event, and I don't mean that to be cruel. If it simply disappeared, the slate might be wiped clean for Perrotta to take a stab at doing it right.
on June 29, 2014
I had never read any of Perrotta's work before The Leftovers. I downloaded this after learning of the HBO series of the same name, expecting great characters, an entertaining satire, or least an interesting post-apocalyptic tale. Unfortunately, despite a promising beginning, The Leftovers ends up becoming a colossally boring trek through post-rapture suburbia that not only fails to deliver any payoff, but doesn't offer any reason to keep reading.
In theory, this book should work, even without explaining the exact nature of or reasons behind the rapture-like event at its center, but it doesn't. To summarize, a considerable portion of the population simply up and vanished one day without any warning. Some are quick to label this the rapture, while others refuse to believe it. Rather than devolve into anarchy or war, the world instead just keeps plugging along, although several cults and cult-like groups rise up in response to that day's events. The "story" (such as it is) focuses on the suburban community of Mapleton, and is told from the points of view of five characters, with one receiving slightly more focus than the others.
The problem isn't that the book doesn't explain the mysteries behind the mass disappearances; if Perrotta had crafted complex, sympathetic characters and/or given them an intriguing setting and interesting things to do, that would have been, at the least, mildly interesting. Instead, the problem is that the characters are simply boring, and the events that happen all end up being either incredibly dull or disappointingly anticlimactic. Some of the plotlines--one in particular that essentially starts out as a sort of quest--seem like they'll be interesting early on, but then...nothing happens. Other characters--particularly the one I mentioned above whom is arguably the 'main' character--literally do nothing for the entire book. One character's pivotal moment--I'm not kidding--is getting their hair done. This character's point of view chapters could have been cut out of the book entirely, and I would not have cared.
I don't want to go into too much detail, but the book is so frustrating because it could have been so much more, and with a little more work the setting could have truly been captivating--the few cults and groups introduced really intrigued me and were probably the best aspect of the book. Yet it seems as if Perrotta was intent on refusing to allow any resolution or any climatic event or development occur, for anyone. If this was meant as some sort of ironic or satirical commentary on modern American suburbia, or an examination of the nature of grief and the difficulty in moving on from it (and there's a lot of times where Perrotta clearly intends to convey some sort of message on these themes to the point of beating you over the head with it), it doesn't work. It just makes for a wasted setting, underdeveloped characters, and a boring read. Again, its not the lack of explanation that's the problem. It's the lack of development and resolution that makes this a tough one to muster the interest to finish. I would have cared more about the message if I cared about the messengers--i.e., the characters. By the end, there was only one main character whom I had come to somewhat care about, but then the book just abruptly ends.
If there's bright side to all this, its that after watching the pilot tonight it seems that the show's creator, Damon Lindelof of Lost fame, is taking care to put much more effort into developing the story and the characters than the author did. It's already clear that while a lot of the basic ideas of the book are in the show, there are also a lot of changes to the story and character that seem poised to make The Leftovers an interesting show to watch. Hopefully the show continues to take liberties from the book and attain its wasted potential.
on September 10, 2011
I was really excited to read this book.. and so disappointed when I actually did. The best way to sum it up is that it felt like it was missing chapters. It starts in the middle of the story, and doesn't really end. I'm one of those people that likes to know EVERYTHING. I want answers, and I want a beginning, middle and an end, and this book didn't have it. The characters had no real depth, and by the end, I really didn't care anymore what happened to any of them. I've never written a bad review of a book before, so the fact that I chose to write one about this makes me realize how little I liked it.
on September 19, 2011
Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers is a book that I really want to like. It has all of the elements of a book I enjoy, a large cast of characters, an interesting plot, and yet this book for me is a complete fail.
The story is basically as follows: the post rapture - only more secularized. We're not sure why or if the rapture actually occurred. Though, to be fair it doesn't really matter, what matters is that people were here one moment and then gone the next. Some people are able to cope and move on, some are not. The book is eerily timed this season with the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 (not sure if this was intentional or not). Either way I couldn't help but wonder whether or not if this is what it was like for those who experienced the terror of losing a loved one.
Leftovers has the trappings of a much more interesting novel, it just falls short. After about 50 pages I found myself wondering: "Why do I care about this mother who willingly leaves her family in order to join a cult? Why do I care that her estranged daughter is struggling with fitting in high-school?" The answer. I don't. I wouldn't recommend this book. I was excited because the premise is so full of promise. What would you do if someone you loved just up and vanished? What if that happened to millions of people around the world, at the very same time: regardless of religion, colour, sexual orientation, etc. The only thing that vanished that I wish I could get back, the time I spent reading this book the past week.
on October 22, 2011
Tom Perrotta writes about ordinary people, living ordinary lives in suburbia. In his previous books, he's told the tale of young suburban parents falling into an extra-marital affair ("Little Children"), of a New Jersey student who goes to Yale and learns how to integrate his persona as the son of a lunch-truck driver with that of an Ivy League student ("Joe College"), and of a high school sex-ed teacher whose career is jeopardized after admitting to her students that people may engage in oral sex because they like it ("The Abstinence Teacher"). Even the central dramatic events in these (very good) books are, well, ordinary.
"The Leftovers" is different. While it's again about ordinary people living in suburbia, the novel takes place after a most extraordinary event: the "Sudden Disappearance" in which millions of people around the world have vanished. It's a rapture-like event, except that unlike the rapture, the people in Perrott's book just literally disappear rather than flying into the sky, and unlike the rapture, there appears to be no rhyme or reason to which people disappear. Those who do include "Hindus and Buddhists and Muslims and Jews and atheists and animists and homosexuals and Eskimos and Mormans and Zoroastrians", as well as a whole bunch celebrities: "John Mellencamp and Jennifer Lopez, Shaq and Adam Sandler, Miss Texas and Greta Van Susteren, Vladimiar Putin and the Pope." The Sudden Disappearance happens on Oct. 14, and the multiple references to "Oct. 14" are clearly intended to recall Sept. 11, and the thousands who suddenly disappeared that fateful day.
Perrotta's novel begins three years after the Sudden Disappearance and focuses on the residents of the Mapleton who were left behind--the leftovers. They've responded in two ways. Some, like Kevin Garvey, have tried to regain the ordinary lives they led prior to Oct. 14, doing things like running for mayor and joining a softball team, while others, like Kevin's wife Laurie, adopt extreme and unusual behaviors. Laurie, for example, joins the G.R.--the Guilty Remnants--a cult who members wear white, refuse to speak, and wander around town smoking cigarettes and staring at--"watching"--people outside the G.R. Another cult eschews baths and shoes--allowing just the slight leniency of flip-flops when there's snow on the ground--while a third gathers around a prophet who offers healing hugs, but also turns out to have a penchant for impregnating underage girls. And then there's the Rev. Matt Jamison, who is so disappointed that he has been left behind that he makes it his personal mission to out all the infidelities and petty crimes of those who have disappeared.
Perrotta makes clear that both types of response to an event like Oct. 14 (and thus, Sept. 11?) are fraught with problems. The craziness of the cults is evident, but so is the craziness of trying to resume an ordinary life: to do so is to behave in ways that can't be anything but absurd. Here is Perrotta describing a Thanksgiving dinner: "What a beautiful bird, they kept telling one another, which was a weird things to say about a dead thing without a head. And then . . .cousin Jerry had made everyone post for a group photograph, with the beautiful bird occupying the place of honor." And here, he depicts an announcement at the City Council Meeting: "Congratulations to Brownie Troop 173, whose second annual gingerbread cookie fund-raiser netted over three hundred dollars for Fuzzy Amigos International, a charity that sends stuffed animals to impoverished indigenous children in Ecuador, Boliva, and Peru". What would pass without comment during a normal time becomes downright ludicrous when huge numbers of people have just evaporated.
And yet, the book's ending makes clear Perrotta's real belief about how we must respond to tragedy. After an unexpected revelation about the G.R. that wallops the reader, there is a further tidying of loose ends that leaves one with hope about the future of those characters who have determined that they will go on living their ordinary lives.
on September 20, 2011
Another fabulous novel from Tom Perrotta. It's a wonderful premise - people living in the aftermath of the Rapture, but what's surprising for those left behind is that the world isn't that different from what it was before. What's different is the way the trauma of losing loved ones and closed friends affects them. Perrotta sets the story 3 years after the event, when life has gone back to normal - for some at least - and they're still struggling to make sense of it all. He shifts perspective between the four key members of a family. The father, Kevin, has become mayor of the town and is struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy for everyone. His wife, Laurie, has joined a group called the Guilty Remnant, who don't speak, wear all white clothes, smoke constantly and follow people around trying to make sure no one forgets the horrible day and that a second day of reckoning may be coming. His daughter, Jill, a former honor student, has given up on school and taken up with a fast group of kids who play promiscuous sexual games. His son, Tom, has run off and joined the Healing Hug movement and then discovers its charismatic leader, who promises he can absorb other people's pain with the power of his hugs, turns out to be just another preacher with a messianic complex and an appetite for sex with teenage girls. The other key character is a broken woman who lost her husband and young son and daughter. She's so devastated, she's not sure she'll ever be whole again. It's a fascinating read. Even if you're not religious, it gets you thinking about how we all are collectively blown away by, and then gradually become inured to, major traumas like 9/11. The mother's storyline, though, offers a harrowing portrait of how horribly self-deluded we can become in an effort to have the world's tragedies make sense. Alongside all this "deep-thoughts" stuff is Perrotta's trademark humor. He doesn't write joke lines, just insightful observations and little details that surprise. I found it particularly funny which celebrities he decided would be chosen by God on this fateful days - the Chosen Ones include John Mellencamp, Jennifer Lopez and Vladimir Putin of all people. (Stephen King's review of the book in The New York Times captures it far better than I can. Not surprisingly, given the source, it's probably the best book review I've ever read. It gives the essence of the book without giving anything away, highlights all of its provocative thoughts, and gives samples of the writing to whet your appetite without any of the snarkiness authors have come to loathe in book reviews.)
on March 31, 2013
I've not read Perrotta before. But I found his plot vague, unrealistic and boring. His characters are completely one-dimensional and, half-way through the book I still don't care about any of them. Some authors love their characters and treat them with tenderness and give you a broad view of their humanity which makes you care for them as well. in fact, some authors create such believable and beloved characters that you know they HAVE to exist and you refuse to believe in a world without these people in it. But not in this book.
The plot is flat because of the complete lack of realism. If a chunk of the world's population suddenly disappeared there would be mass hysteria, markets would crash, stocks would plummet because of buying frenzies, people would lose their money. Insanity and violence would increase. It would be the Great Depression but so much worse. People would be terrified and traumatized. Police forces and fire departments would be reduced leaving everyone vulnerable to riots and looting. The entire world would be devastated. But none of that happens. Everything rocks along just fine and the government, far from being decimated, has plenty of money to recompense everyone when the insurance companies refuse. No one even loses their home! There are no food shortages or anything.
The characters don't seem to care much about their own losses , so why should we? There is no real grief, just a general melaise. The story is told in a slow, emotionless, mundane manner. Ho hum. If the author can't get excited or empathetic about the plight of his characters, I ultimately don't care either.
One thing that baffles me is the cult that calls itself the Guilty Remnant. They believe that God has judged the earth and the ones left behind are to follow everyone else around in silence and try to make them aware of their sin ... I guess. But what is puzzling and ultimately unbelievable is that most of these people have lost a member of their family, yet they choose to leave behind forever the rest of their family. A family that is focused on has the mother walk out even though she has a young teenage daughter. Why? No explanation is given.
It's just a mess. I gather that Perrotta is a talented writer, but this book falls flat. I'm halfway through it and am so bored I'm calling it quits. You have to decide how much of your time you're willing to invest in a boring, unsatisfying book, and I've decided to move on.
I had purchased this novel when it came out. It seemed like a clever idea: a group of people suddenly, inexplicably disappear. How do the people left behind, the “leftovers”, react? Get on with their lives? Still, for one reason and another, I never got around to reading it. Then, when news of the HBO television series based on the novel came out, I decided to pull it off the shelf. It turns out, the book has its pleasures but is not one of my favorites.
I should have realized right away that this one was not going to appeal to me. I don’t like stories that are based on events that are going to remain unexplained. A certain number of people around the world have vanished without a trace and we are never going to get a reason for it. Granted, this book is truly meant to be about the survivors and how they get on with things and I get that. On the other hand, apart from nods to the Rapture, there seems to be no real attempt by anyone to understand what has happened. (No scientific explanation, even a crackpot one?) It feels wrong to me.
That said, Mr. Perrotta knows how to get inside his characters’ heads. It is interesting to see the journeys on which he takes these characters. And yet, the main focus of his story is the Garvey family—Kevin, the father; Laurie, the mother; Tom, the son; and Jill, the daughter—a family basically untouched by the disappearances. Except for Laurie, who joins a new, post-Sudden Departure cult, the other three go onto very typical experiences: the abandoned father throws himself into work, the college-aged son drops out and goes on a road trip, the teenage daughter experiments with sex and lets her grades slip before turning herself around. The societal tumults add some flavor to these stories but, in reality, they could have been lifted out of this book and dropped into another family novel with only minor adjustments.
That’s not to say that Mr. Perrotta doesn’t handle their stories well, it just means that his clever set-up is almost incidental to the main story he is telling. That’s why Laurie’s story is the most disappointing in the book. Her decision to join the Guilty Remnant cult and the very strange things she gets involved with there are nearly as inexplicable as the off-stage disappearances on which this novel begins. Where it ultimately leads, which I won’t give away here, seems very wrong to me. In fact, the only character here that really shines is Nora Durst, whose entire family disappears on the day of the Sudden Departure. She is the only one who seems to be reacting honestly to the demands of the set-up.
In the end, it is the choice of basing this novel on this Rapture-like event that really hamstrings Mr. Perrotta. It is clever, but interferes with developing his characters, something in which he otherwise seems to excel. If he put the Garvey family in a more typical setting, I think he could have done something more powerful with them. As it is, though he ties up his strands in a nice little bow as the novel comes to a close, it doesn’t feel right.
on June 6, 2014
I tried to enjoy this book. Characters seem to have a start but are never fully fleshed out and the "Remnant" thing with the cigarettes was just silly. I couldn't connect with anyone and found myself
not caring what happened to them. The television show echoes the book. Enough said..