by Tom Perrotta
A Rapture-style event takes place and millions of people around the world disappear. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to who was taken and those who remain, the leftovers if you will, are baffled.
The novel focuses mainly on one suburban family’s reaction to the event in the years that follow the occurrence. The husband and wife, Kevin and Laurie, have vastly different reactions. She joins a group of fanatics called the Guilty Remnant, convinced they must abandon their lives and take a vow of silence in order to remind people about what happened. Kevin goes in the opposite direction, embracing the community and running for the office of town mayor.
Their college-age son Tom searches for meaning and instead finds the “Healing Hug Movement” led by the charismatic Holy Wayne. Lost in the mix is Jill, their daughter who has just started high school. After losing her friend Jen in the event, she is expected to grieve, but instead finds herself wanting to embrace life. A lack of parental guidance and the bad influence of a new friend leave her feeling empty. She is searching for love and acceptance in the wrong places.
Perrotta has a gift for making extreme circumstances seem relatable. In this case, the rapture serves mainly as a device to allow the readers to dive into a fascinating character study of the effects of grief and shock on people. Everyone has lost someone, even those who are only missing celebrities. This shared grief both unites and divides people. It has created a world filled with lonely individuals, few of which know how to initiate new meaningful connections.
One of the most interesting characters is Nora. She lives in the same town and lost both of her kids and her husband on that fateful day. Unlike some of the other characters, she seems unable to move forward, trapped by her grief and guilt, despite the fact that her life was not the perfect picture others thought it to be.
For me the ending was a letdown. The story just seemed to peter out and that really affected my overall impression of the book. I was just expecting something more and instead it just wrapped up quickly and ended.
BOTTOM LINE: The book might be about an unexplained rapture, but really it’s about human nature, relationships and interactions. The rapture is just used to bring those things into a sharper focus, highlighting the loneliness of our world. It was surprisingly hard to put down. I was a bit disappointed in the ending, hence the lower rating, but still an interesting character study.
“… the gratitude that spreads through your body when a burden gets lifted, and the sense of homecoming that follows, when you suddenly remember what it feels like to be yourself.”