Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Leftovers

The Leftovers, by Tom Perrotta.

They hunkered down for a couple of weeks, just the four of them, watching DVDs and playing board games, anything to distract themselves from the hysterical monotony of the TV news - the obsessive repetition of the same few basic facts, the ever-rising tally of the missing, interview upon interview with traumatized eyewitnesses, who said things like He was standing right next to me ... , or I just turned around for a second ..., before their voices trailed off into embarrassed little chuckles. The coverage felt different from that of September 11th, when the networks had shown the burning towers over and over. October 14th was more amorphous, harder to pin down: There were massive highway pileups, some train wrecks, numerous small-plane and helicopter crashes - luckily, no big passenger jets went down in the United States, although several had to be landed by terrified co-pilots, and one by a flight attendant who'd become a folk hero for a little while, one bright spot in a sea of darkness - but the media was never able to settle upon a single visual image to evoke the catastrophe. There also weren't any bad guys to hate, which made everything that much harder to get into focus.

This book definitely brought up some interesting ideas. On October 14th, in what some are calling "The Rapture," people's friends and families just vanished. One minute they were there; the next, they were not. Devout Christians were angry that they were not among the Chosen, and others are baffled as to the reasons why some were chosen. Most people lost 1 family member, or maybe 1 friend; Nora Durst, however, lost her whole family, her two kids and husband. Kevin Garvey, Maplewood's mayor, lost his wife, but in a different way: she goes to join the Guilty Remnant, a cult-like group who wears all white, takes a vow of silence, and makes their presence around Maplewood known. His son, Tom, goes back to college, but soon drops out and falls in with a "prophet" of sort, Holy Wayne. His daughter, Jill, has slipping grades and frequently skips her high school classes. Nothing is the same as it was before, and people want an explanation for the events of October 14th; unfortunately, there is no concrete answer to give.

Tom Perrotta has written numerous other novels, including Little Children, which was a great book that got turned into a film, and I like his writing a lot. The focus of the book is more on the people "left behind," and how October 14th affected them, rather than the events itself, and it is here in which the prose excels. The concept was interesting as well - how would you feel if some of the population just randomly disappeared? - and juxtaposes that against the setting of what used to be a normal, small-town community.

3.5 stars out of 5.


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