What would you do if suddenly millions of people disappeared from Earth? No explanation offered – one moment you’re having breakfast with your kids and the next second poolf! they are gone! Would you be capable of resuming your life? Would you just give up? Personally, I’ve never thought about it before, but now thanks to Tom Perrotta, I have. In The Leftovers, Perrotta brings us his interpretation of this very situation in the town of Mapleton.
The title alone suggests an unsettled feeling and makes me think of old food in the refrigerator. Maybe the people left behind weren’t good enough to be chosen. Chosen for what? No one really knows since there is no rhyme or reason as to who is chosen. Due to the randomness of people taken away, the citizens of Mapleton are depressed, angry and bewildered.
Mr. Perrotta focuses on one family who has a rough time, even though their immediate family remains intact. Laurie, wife and mother, abandons her husband and two children to join a cult called the “Guilty Remnants”. Their goal is to ensure that no one forgets the Sudden Departure by dressing in white, not speaking in public and silently stalking the townsfolk around. They are also required to smoke to “proclaim their faith.” I found this oddly amusing as Laurie becomes completely immersed in the GR despite their bizarre habits. I was hopeful that she would regret her decision and return home but that was wishful thinking on my part.
Kevin, husband and father, is elected mayor and tries to cope by helping the community. Since his wife has left him, he attempts some sort of normalcy by dating, but it’s hard to find anyone that hasn’t developed some odd psychological behavior due to the Departure. His strongest attempt is with Nora who has a strange fascination with the cartoon “Sponge Bob Square Pants”. While focusing on his own life, he neglects his teenage daughter who is in desperate need of a parent. Her mother abandoned her, her dad doesn’t know how to reach her so like any troubled teenage girl, she becomes preoccupied with her ‘new’ friends, parties and subsequently fails her classes in school. Her brother, Tom, follows a self-proclaimed healer called “Holy Wayne” across the country and then is lost when the prophet loses sight of his original dream of healing people and ends up in jail.
At first the story appears very serious and at times depressing, but then I found myself laughing and feeling guilty about it. I felt better after hearing the interview with Mr. Perrotta at the end of the audio book (bonus!). He says that his original intention was to write a comical book about this situation and although it turned serious, he managed to maintain some of the humor he had originally wanted. I already mentioned the Guilty Remnants making me chuckle, you’ll have to read the book to catch the others.
Even though The Leftovers doesn’t really have a traditional plot, the characters kept me entertained and I really enjoyed listening to it. I recommend it to anyone else who uses audio books as a means to contain their road rage. It also got me to thinking about the people that have simply disappeared from my life. Sometimes they died and sometimes we just grew apart and they were gone. Compared to the family in this story, I’m doing pretty well.