Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book Review: "The Leftovers" by Tom Perrotta

Most of Tom Perrotta's novels have been wry examinations of society and its foibles. Election, Little Children and The Abstinence Teacher each did a terrific job in chronicling the positives and negatives of human behavior. His characters aren't always sympathetic, their motivations aren't always understandable, but his books always make you think.

With his newest novel, The Leftovers, Perrotta ponders an interesting question: what if the Rapture happened, but not all of the religiously devout were taken, but instead, a random, unexplainable group of people disappeared? How would the rest of the world cope? How would a person deal with the disappearance of a spouse, children, or parents? These are the issues that the citizens of Mapleton, a small midwestern town, are confronted with when an event called the "Sudden Departure" affects the world. No one—not even religious leaders—can explain who was chosen and why, and no one can help those left behind to try and get on with their lives. Kevin Garvey, the mayor of Mapleton, lost none of his family to the Sudden Departure directly, but his family has fallen apart in the wake of the event. His wife, Laurie, joined a cult of survivors called the Guilty Remnant; his daughter, Jill, has started failing out of school and become promiscuous; and his son, Tom, dropped out of college to follow a questionable prophet named Holy Wayne. As Kevin tries to help the people of his town rebuild their lives, he embarks on a relationship with Nora Durst, whose husband and children were lost to the Departure.

I always marvel at Perrotta's storytelling ability and the way he thinks things through. He did a great job creating a post-Rapture world without actually having you experience what happened that day, so much like the characters themselves, you don't really know what happened to those who disappeared. When I finished the book, I found myself frustrated that not one character's situation was resolved, but then I realized that this must be a metaphor for how the world felt after the Sudden Departure. (It's still frustrating to me, though, that no narrative threads were wrapped up. I like some ambiguity, but this was tough.) In the end, though, this is a well-written and tremendously captivating book, and I'm so glad Perrotta is still in fine writing form.

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