Tom Perrotta: The Leftovers (review)

9780007453115Back in 2010, on a holiday to Cyprus, I read Tom Perrotta’s Little Children and really liked it. Since then, I have bought his The Abstinence Teacher and The Leftovers because they sound so interesting and he’s a good writer. After reading Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles, it felt natural to turn to another dystopia novel and Perrotta’s The Leftovers fit the bill completely.

I’m not sure it’s correct to call this novel dystopia because normally, a dystopia means that the world has changed in such a way that it’s very unpleasant to live in; but the world is just as it always has been in this book, except for the Rapture. A Rapture is a Christian belief that a big part of the believers will be transported to Heaven at the Second Coming of Christ. To the people left behind, a lot of people has just disappeared into thin air. We don’t know if they have been taken home to God or something more sinister and of course, the Christians who believed in the Rapture now argue that this wasn’t it, because they were not taken and because ‘bad people like homosexuals etc’ were. This also means that a priest who were left behind, starts publishing smutty stories about the people who was taken, to prove that what happened definitely was not the Rapture because the people taken were not worthy. His reaction was very interesting, I thought.

As in Little Children, we follow different people to get various views on what has happened. In this one, we follow Kevin Garvey, mayor of Mapleton, whose own family has fallen apart after the Rapture. Not because any of his family has been taken but because his wife Laurie has left him to join a sect, The Guilty Remnant, where she has to start smoking, follow people around to be a sort of reminder of the power of God as well as take a vow of silence. Meanwhile, their daughter is having trouble at school and their son has joined another cult, lead by a wannabe prophet called Holy Wayne who claims to be able to ‘take on people’s pain’.

Adding to these problems, Kevin is attracted to Nora who lost her entire family to the Rapture. Nora tries to deal with it by riding her bike a lot and watching Spongebob Squarepants episodes while reminiscing over her family and trying not to wear out the memories.

We also follow Laurie and her struggles to come to terms with living in this cult, teaching new members of it and dealing with having left her husband and children – and her husband showing interest in another woman. Laurie’s son Tom has quite a different run with the cult he has joined, being the protector of one of the prophet’s teenage mistresses and dealing with what happens in a cult when it’s leader – almost inevitably – turns out to be less than he claimed to be.

What is interesting when I compare a book like The Age of Miracles with The Leftovers is, that in the first one, things get progressively worse throughout the entire book whereas in The Leftovers there is only one event and then we get to see how people react to this event, the emptiness created in their lives by the people who has disappeared. It must be heartbreaking to have your loved ones just disappear with no one having any idea about what happens to them. I mean, we are not necessarily completely sure with what happens after death but we are used to it because it has always been life’s companion – but a Rapture is another ballgame completely. Nothing is left – not even a body. It’s interesting in both books that the apocalyptic event is not really explained – we are not told in The Age of Miracles why the earth slows down and the Rapture is not explained in this one either. I guess explanations make it easier to cope – but if such a thing happened in real life, I doubt we would get any explanations either so it’s interesting – and more realistic – to see how different these people handle it. And how random the Rapture is.

This book is not really about the Rapture. It’s about how people react to such an event where the things that used to seem important in our everyday life no longer is. It’s about the relationships between people and how different we react to such life-altering moments. Still, Perrotta doesn’t manage to make me care all that much about his characters and Laurie in particular and her actions, leaving her children, and what she ends up doing to promote the Guilty Remnant, just didn’t ring true to me. It didn’t feel like something a normal loving mother and woman would do and it just didn’t make a lot of sense to me and hardly any of her actions is explained properly or believable.

I debated for a long while whether this was a 3 stars or 4 stars book. On the one hand, I really enjoyed it while reading it. On the other hand, it wasn’t as good as Little Children (which was a 4 stars book for me). So I kind of agreed with myself that it was a little 4 or a big 3 … and that really got me nowhere. I’m still having doubts while I’m writing this – but I think I’ll end up with 3 stars because if I’m not sure it deserves 4 stars, it shouldn’t get them. Still, it is enjoyable read – as always, Perrotta knows his way around middle class America and suburbia and he is an amusing writer whose writing just flows. I just expected more from this one.

  • Title: The Leftovers
  • Author: Tom Perrotta
  • Publisher: 4th
  • Year: 2012 (original 2011)
  • Pages: 355 pages
  • Source: Own Collection
  • Stars: 3 stars out of 5

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4 thoughts on “Tom Perrotta: The Leftovers (review)

    • It’s a good book. He can definitely write. I’m looking forward to The Abstinence Teacher to see if it’s as good as Little Children. I don’t think this one is quite as good but definitely worth reading.

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