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The Leftovers Hardcover – August 30, 2011
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, August 2011: Author Tom Perrotta is a master at exposing the quiet desperation behind America’s suburban sheen. In The Leftovers he explores what would happen if The Rapture actually took place and millions of people just disappeared from the earth. How would normal people respond? Perrotta’s characters show a variety of coping techniques, including indifference, avoidance, depression, freaking out, and the joining of cults. Despite the exceptional circumstances, it’s really not unlike how people respond to more minor incidents in their lives (excepting cults). The result is a novel that’s a slow burn yet strangely compelling, one that leaves the reader pondering the story long after it’s over. In vivid and occasionally satiric prose, he takes a bizarre and abnormal event--the Rapture--and imagines how normal people would deal with being left behind. --Chris Schluep
"[Perrotta's] most ambitious book to date....The premise is as simple as it is startling (certainly for the characters involved). The novel is filled with those who have changed their lives radically or discovered something crucial about themselves, as radical upheaval generates a variety of coping mechanisms. Though the tone is more comic than tragic, it is mainly empathic, never drawing a distinction between "good" and "bad" characters, but recognizing all as merely human—ordinary people dealing with an extraordinary situation." — Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“Perrotta combines absurd circumstance and authentic characters to wondrous effect, turning his story into a vivid exploration of what we believe, what matters most, and how, if untethered, we move on…Perrotta treats his characters with sympathy and invites the reader to do the same.”--Seattle Times
“In his provocative new novel Tom Perrotta dives straight into our unease…it’s a gentle, Perrotta-esque go at sci-fi, without any mangled bodies or bombed-out buildings; it’s a realistic novel built on a supernatural foundation.”--Boston Globe
“Perrotta’s gift is his ability to infuse satire with warmth, to find significance in the absurd. It’s easy to mock extreme forms of religious expression. It’s harder to find their meaning and application. Perrotta does both in this rich and oddly reassuring read.”--More Magazine
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I found this book deeply appealing, because the author didn’t go in that direction. This novel simply deals with the aftermath of an unexplained phenomenon.
The entire story is a gray feeling littered with underlying hopelessness. Imagine such an immense effect on any community. All of the characters react to their abysmal reality in believable ways. The younger characters dampen their pain with drugs, while others reach out to the misguided “hugging” guru while some choose to carry their guilt by joining a loveless cult. Then you have the false cheer of the mayor – while he didn’t lose anyone close to him in the Rapture - he lost those close to him to the varied escapes mentioned above.
This story isn’t going to leave the reader with many answers. It would be so nice to have the outcome tidily wrapped up in the conclusion. However, the author achieves the overall dismal and hopelessness of what the characters are still left feeling three years after this horrific incident.
Some reviews mention the lack of warmth and emotion between the characters, and I don’t know why I didn’t feel this as necessary. I think if you truly get into the book, it simply makes sense that everyone is operating on a robotic-going through the motions-level. There just doesn’t seem like there’s room for that kind of warmth. I feel like all the characters are depleted and can only conjure enough energy to survive day to day.
These are the scenarios that plague a suburban American town in The Leftovers. Truly, the ones left behind cannot understand why they were left, or why the ones "raptured," if that is what this is, were chosen. They were just ordinary people, some of them not even religious. So why?
Slowly we move through the lives of those left behind, seeing the shells that some of them have become. A few of them simply cannot stand having life that makes no sense anymore and join a cult-like group called the Guilty Remnant. These folks wear white, have taken a vow of silence, and have set themselves up to convert the others via their roles as Watchers. They follow, they stare, and they try to recruit.
In a sense, the narration feels muted and emotionless, but I believe the author purposely chose this somewhat detached style to characterize how flat the landscape is in a life that has been decimated. Emotions are tricky and they betray us. Flat, detached, going-through-the-motions life feels more appropriate, perhaps.
I liked some characters better than others, but in each case, I could see why they behaved the way they did. And throughout this story, with its unexpected ending, I felt as though they were people I could connect with...if they would allow connections to happen. As usual, Perrotta delivers a masterful story. Five stars.
Instead we view reactions and the action primarily through the Garvey family. They are believable enough but the angst we witness is surprisingly bland. In fact, dysfunctional life continues with this one inexplicable event replacing the other things that would otherwise occupy people or cause them to complain, such as, terrorism, the economy, global warming. As the novel progresses, we witness the suburbanites slide back into Cheever territory with affairs, lust, idleness, and a McDonald's-like comforting routine. The book evoked memories of The Ice Storm and American Beauty.
Most interesting to me were the new organizations that boomed following the Sudden Departure. There are the Barefoot People, the Healing Hug Movement, and the much more disturbing Guilty Remnant. These constructs are plausible as people search for meaning. Without a doubt the book is thought-provoking and it's first half engrossing. However, the remainder of the book failed to engage with the author seeming to lose his big idea.