A confession: I was pretty sure that I did not want to read The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta. At all. The subject matter as I understood it, a story of what happens after the Rapture-like event comes to pass, didn’t seem like my thing. As luck would have it, Tom Perrotta was a featured author at the Decatur Book Festival. I went to see him read from the novel, and the next thing I knew I was getting my own copy of the book signed by the author. Signed copy in hand, it seemed that actually reading the novel would be the next logical thing to do.
I suppose what I thought the book was going to be was a wink-wink style satire of the Rapture and the people who believe that such a thing is imminent – something mean-spirited. Perrorra signals the reader that this is not where the novel is going right upfront – on Page 2 of the prologue actually – when a character reflects on what she thought of the Rapture – before:
It felt like religious kitsch, as tacky as a black velvet painting, the kind of fantasy that appealed to people who ate too much fried food, spanked their kids, and had no problem with the theory that their loving God invented AIDS to punish the gays. Every once in a while…she’d spot someone reading one of the Left Behind books in an airport or on a train, and feel a twinge of pity, and even a little bit of tenderness, for the poor sucker who had nothing better to read, and nothing else to do, except sit around dreaming about the end of the world. And then it happened. The biblical prophecy came true…
There is some disagreement over whether the baffling disappearance of millions of people from the face of the earth (and millions left behind) is truly a Rapture-like religious reckoning or something else entirely. It quickly comes to be referred to as the ”Sudden Departure” on the 24-hour news channels.
The novel focuses on how the aftermath plays out in a middle-sized town. The titular “leftovers” are stunned both by overwhelming grief for the loved ones who suddenly disappeared from their lives and the existential angst of what it means that they weren’t among those taken. It’s a fascinating premise. Naturally, many people choose to abruptly live their lives in a different way. Some see no point in living as they had been, and they frequently resort to extreme or bizarre worldviews to hammer out some sense of the inexplicable. Others try to continue on with a normal life despite the fundamental shift in the world around them.
Perrotta, to his credit, treats all of this very seriously. The novel is never cartoonish, and it’s interesting to see where he leads. This is a thought-provoking novel and a good read. I’m glad that I stumbled across Perrotta at the Decatur Book Fest, or I would have clung to my very wrong preconceptions on what this novel is all about. I recommend checking it out
Post Script: As I was finishing The Leftovers, a copy of the audiobook version arrived in the BGB mailbox. I handed it off to Anne, the BGB reviewer who uses audiobooks to keep from harming fellow Atlantans in traffic. I’m looking forward to hearing what she thinks about it. It’s that kind of book.