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The Leftovers Hardcover – August 30, 2011
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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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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The Leftovers, by Tom Perrotta, also explores the idea of dealing with emotional pain when loved ones suddenly disappear. But in this novel, the loved ones disappear in a rather different way. Perrotta concocts a Rapture-like event called the Sudden Departure, in which people quite literally disappear, seemingly at random. One second they're eating dinner or riding their bikes or piloting airplanes. The next, they're gone. And there's no discernible reason why and no recognizable pattern of disappearance -- those Raptured aren't just Sanctimonious Evangelical Christians.
And so this narrative trick gives Perrotta a new and inventive way to explore how those who are left behind must move on with their lives. Some join cults or follow crazy but charismatic prophets, thus disappearing from their families in a different way. Some try to prove that the ones who were taken actually were bad people -- that way, those who are still on Earth can talk themselves into the fact that the Sudden Departure was not actually the prophesied Rapture of religious lore. But the majority of people do their best simply to try to go on with life as it used to be.
That last category includes Kevin Garvey. Kevin is the mayor of the small suburban town of Mapleton. As the novel begins -- three years after the Sudden Departure -- Kevin's wife Laurie has abandoned the family to take up with a group that calls themselves the Guilty Remnant. Kevin and Laurie's son Tom has quit college, and begun following a nutjob named Holy Wayne. That leaves daughter Jill, an increasingly precocious teenager, who drinks and does drugs and has casual sex -- but at least she's still there.
The story chronicles six months in these characters' lives, showing how individual decisions to "disappear" from one's family can be just as sad and with just as many emotional consequences (perhaps more!) than if disappearance was sudden and unexplained.
Perrotta writes a smooth, easy-to-read story -- a modern parable, if you will. It's 90 percent great, and then 10 percent poor near the end, so I'm giving it four stars. But if you like modern, hip writing and an inventive story, The Leftovers is definitely for you.
The main character, Kevin Garvey, is the recently elected Mayor of Mapleton, the small-town setting for most of the story. Though not having lost anyone close to him in the Sudden Departure, Kevin's wife Laurie has joined an apocalyptic cult - a nondenominational sect of people who wear white robes, take a vow of silence and poverty, and, in pairs of two and on foot, follow random people around, stalking them to remind the masses that the end of all things is near. Kevin's son Tom, a former college student, has joined a different end-times cult, this one dedicated to following a man they call Holy Wayne who possesses the supernatural ability to take people's sorrows away with his Holy Hugs. So Kevin lives alone with his high school age daughter Jill and her party-girl friend Aimee.
The premise makes it sound like it will be a science fiction story, or a post-apocalyptic saga (unless you've read Tom Perrotta's works before), but it's actually a realistic character study of the different ways people deal with different types of tremendous loss, whether they're left behind by the Suddenly Departed, joiners of doomsday cults, or incarcerated cult leaders. The ending is not climactic enough for such a high-concept story. One of the main characters' hard-to-believe involvement in some bizarre activity stood out to me as unfitting. And the end comes unexpectedly; I turned the page and it was over, there wasn't a real feeling of conclusion, though I guess it would fit in with the theme of sudden departures.
I'm a fan of Tom Perrotta's novels. He's one of my favorite contemporary authors. This fits in well with his work; fans of his will not be left behind.