Imagine that something very much like the traditional Christian concept of The Rapture has suddenly occurred and that millions of people have disappeared. This is the jumping off point for Tom Perrotta’s rather cleverly titled new novel, The Leftovers.
Much to the surprise of some of the true believers (many of whom are already a little ticked about being delegated to Leftover status), the chosen ones include Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Christians, and members of every other imaginable religion - even a considerable number of hedonistic non-believers known to have thoroughly enjoyed their time in this world. That it all seems to have been so random is, in fact, the most difficult part of the experience for some to understand.
Some disappeared from elevators as they moved between floors, some from living room couches while in the middle of conversations with friends, and others from their chairs as they consumed what would be their final meals. Some families lost fathers, some lost mothers, and some lost a child or two. Others were shocked to become the only Leftover in their immediate family. Amazingly enough, however, life would soon resume its normal rhythms while the Leftovers sought their own ways to cope with their losses.
The Leftovers, which begins three years after the big event, centers itself on the Garvey family: Kevin, who becomes Mapleton’s new mayor; his wife, Laura, who joins the Guilty Remnant cult; Tom, their son who becomes part of Holy Wayne’s Healing Hug movement; and teenaged Jill who still lives at home with her father. The Guilty Remnant bunch and the Healing Hug movement, though they are very different types of cults, are two of the mechanisms through which people try to cope with what has happened. That even a family like the Garveys, one of the lucky ones to remain whole after the supposed Rapture experience, is tested beyond its breaking point illustrates the emotional severity of what has happened around the world.
This is a book about coping and healing. Some turn inward, some to cults, some to family and friends; others ignore it all or become suicidal. As Tom Perrotta mentioned at the Texas Book Festival in October, 2011, his book is set during the “seven-year period of Tribulation after the Rapture” and he wonders if “anyone would even remember the rapture three years later.” This is the question that, with the help of his fictional Garvey family, he explores in The Leftovers.
However, for reasons difficult to explain, The Leftovers is a surprisingly flat reading experience. None of the book’s main characters, other than perhaps Kevin Garvey, are particularly appealing and the book, by spending so much time with its two weird cults, seems to gloss over the magnitude of the loss so many ordinary people would have experienced. One cannot help but feel that The Leftovers could have packed a more profound emotional clout than it does – meaning that the book, for many readers, will be a disappointing near miss.
Rated at: 3.0