The Leftovers

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Leftovers
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.”


Anonymous said...

Apart from the ending (I'm assuming the mystery gets resolved, if wrapped up quickly), this sounds brilliant. The themes and the way you speak of the rapture as being there to help explain those ideas are pretty appealing. The cover's both quirky and spooky!

Jeanne said...

I remember that when I read it, back in Nov. 2011, I thought it was very sad, and not very satiric. Perhaps that's mostly because of the ending, as you say. He's a good writer, but he's written better books.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Charlie - Yeah, the mystery never gets resolved. I kinda assumed it would too.

Jeanne - That was my feeling. The writing is good, but he's written better plots.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I've had this audio for quite awhile, and just haven't been compelled to listen to it. I liked (?) Little Children...well maybe appreciated is a better word. Pretty dark stuff, but he has an uncanny perception of human nature.

Laura said...

I'm a bit of a Perrotta fan (I've only read 2 of his books, but... I'm still a fan!) so I definitely want to read this- i reckon I can cope with a meh ending if the characters are that good. This is about the only review I've seen of this, though, so thank you for that!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Sandy - Appreciated is definitely the right word. I can't say that I "liked" Little Children either, it's just so dark.

Laura - I hope you like it. Like I said, even with a meh ending the character study still made it an interesting read!

Jenners said...

I so agree with you -- Perrotta can take something so BIG like this and make it totally personal. But I agree too that the book didn't have a satisfying ending. I just love is writing though.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jenners - I did too! Thanks for sharing your copy with me (even though it took me awhile to get to it)!

Bybee said...

Before I read your review, the picture of the shoes on the cover with vapor steaming from them made me first think that they were stinky. Then I realized that no one is going to create a whole novel around foot odor.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Bybee - Bahaha, someone probably has written a book about that.