Title: The Leftovers
Author: Tom Perrotta
Genre: Speculative fiction, contemporary fiction
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: ARC from the publisher
First line: Laurie Garvey hadn’t been raised to believe in the Rapture.
I was fortunate to receive two ARCs of Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers from the publisher, and so held a giveaway with the idea of doing a buddy-read/review with the winner. Amy from Amy’s Book Obsession and I both finished the book and then sent each other questions to answer about our reading experience.
Because this won’t be a typical review, I thought I’d give you a plot blurb before I answer Amy’s questions.
Goodreads blurb: What if — whoosh, right now, with no explanation — a number of us simply vanished? Would some of us collapse? Would others of us go on, one foot in front of the other, as we did before the world turned upside down?
That’s what the bewildered citizens of Mapleton, who lost many of their neighbors, friends and lovers in the event known as the Great Departure, have to figure out. Because nothing has been the same since it happened — not marriages, not friendships, not even the relationships between parents and children.
Kevin Garvey, Mapleton’s new mayor, wants to speed up the healing process, to bring a sense of renewed hope and purpose to his traumatized community. Kevin’s own family has fallen apart in the wake of the disaster: his wife, Laurie, has left to join the Guilty Remnant, a homegrown cult whose members take a vow of silence; his son, Tom, is gone, too, dropping out of college to follow a sketchy prophet named Holy Wayne. Only Kevin’s teenaged daughter, Jill, remains, and she’s definitely not the sweet “A” student she used to be. Kevin wants to help her, but he’s distracted by his growing relationship with Nora Durst, a woman who lost her entire family on October 14th and is still reeling from the tragedy, even as she struggles to move beyond it and make a new start.
And now for Amy’s questions and my answers.
The picture that Tom Perrotta painted of adolescence (via Jill and her friends) in this book was very striking – I found that aspect of the book to be very impactful. Did you feel the same way? Why or why not?
I did feel the same way! The parties featuring promiscuous sex – not between couples who are dating, but between whomever feels like hooking up that night – were disturbing. I kept wondering if this is the way teens actually behave in some parts of the country, or if this was supposed to be the teen characters’ way of reacting to the Great Disappearance. I may be naive: we live in a rural community, we homeschool, etc. But my teen-aged daughter does have friends outside of homeschooling and church, and I can’t imagine them engaging in this type of activity! I thought that it was an effective way for the author to deal with Jill’s response to her mother’s abandonment, though.
How do you think you might have reacted to the GD, had you been part of the world that Tom Perrotta creates in this novel?
Wow – I kept thinking about this question throughout the book, and I still haven’t come up with an answer. I am a Christian, but I don’t really know what I believe when it comes to the Rapture. I think I would decide that the GD was a natural phenomenon, and not God-related other than in the way that God is ultimately in control of everything. Hopefully, I would hold on to a genuine faith, and not fall into any of the weird cult-ish behavior that we saw in the book!
What do you think that it means that the GD appears to have no meaning given that there appears to be no logic as to who was chosen and who was not?
I think that was one of the most interesting things about the book, because by nature, people want explanations. The very fact that there was no reasonable explanation as to who was taken, and why, left the remaining people even more unsettled and bereft. And it was a very courageous choice on the part of the author to write it that way, which leads me to your next question.
Do you think Perrotta made the right choice in focusing on the human stories rather than the metaphysical aspects of the GD?
I do think he made the correct choice – especially for the type of fiction that he writes. This could have been a post-apocalyptic or dystopian novel, which would have been a more commercial choice, I’m sure, given the popularity of those genres right now. In choosing to keep it character driven and not give any explanation for the GD, he makes the story one about people and human nature and the extremely varied ways in which humans respond to calamity. His characters were so real, and I could understand almost every single choice they made. The one exception is Laurie. As a mother, I could never quite empathize with her decision to leave her family and join the Guilty Remnant, and especially to give up her ability to think for herself to the point that she takes the action that she does at the end of the book. It was believable for the character, but not a choice I could understand on a personal level.
It was interesting to me that he chose to tell this story three years after the GD rather than during the immediate aftermath. Why do you think Perrotta did this and do you think it was more or less effective as a result?
Good question! I think that if he had set it at the time of the GD or directly after, he would not have been able to avoid making the book about looking for answers. Because three years have already gone by and no answers as to the cause of the GD have been forthcoming, people have given up and gone on to whatever life choices the GD propelled them toward. I believe it was a necessary choice for him to make in order to write the book that he did.
This novel explores a lot of dark topics. Did feel this exploration of the darker side of human nature made the book sad or depressing? Why or why not?
Yes, parts of it did make me sad, but not so sad that the feeling followed me around after I put the book aside, if that makes sense. It wasn’t a depressing book. And while there were parts of the ending that were disturbing, I thought it was an ultimately hopeful resolution.
Thanks, Amy, for reading along with me – I enjoyed the book even more knowing there was someone I could pose my questions to!
Have any of you read this book? What did you think?