The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
If millions of people disappeared in a Rapture-like event, what would change in the world they left behind? According to Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers, aside from an increase in slightly ludicrous religious cults, the answer is not much.
At first glance, the Garveys managed to survive The Sudden Departure intact, but shortly after the mass disappearance things start to fall apart. Kevin Garvey, recently elected mayor of Mapleton, struggles to reconnect with his daughter, Jill, who has ditched studying and good grades for parties and drinking, after her mother, Laurie, abandons the family for a cult called The Guilty Remnant. At college, eldest son, Tom Garvey, falls under the sway of a prophet named Holy Wayne. The events that follow involve several faltering attempts at romance, teen angst, murder, and a road trip with a possible miracle baby.
The Leftovers continues a trend exemplified by Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. A well worn, movie-worthy event is fast forwarded through in favor of telling the story of the aftermath and the way it affects normal people’s lives. The Sudden Departure serves as a way to elicit interesting reactions from a community as well as individuals. Atheists and agnostics find religion at the same time Christians vehemently deny the disappearance of millions across the world as the Rapture. One character, so distraught at being left behind, begins publishing a tabloid chronicling the sins of the departed. The most visible religious response is the presence of The Guilty Remnant, individuals who sever all ties with their former lives, take a vow of silence, dress in white, chain smoke, and agitate mainly by patrolling Mapleton and staring at people. It is this cult that provides the most constant reminder that the world of the novel is not our own.
The tone of The Leftovers can be strange, reading like a satire in which the author has come to like the characters so much he can’t bring himself to portray them negatively. Perhaps this just seems odd because honest compassion, especially for fictional characters, is rarer than one might believe.
Overall, Tom Perrotta provides readers with an interesting premise, intelligent insights, and consistent characterization. This book should be of interest to readers of fantasy, both literary and science fiction.