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Book Review – The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

November 9, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Book Description:

Amazon Best Books of the Month, August 2011

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 Sudden 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.

With heart, intelligence and a rare ability to illuminate the struggles inherent in ordinary lives, Tom Perrotta has written a startling, thought-provoking novel about love, connection and loss.

About the Author

TOM PERROTTA is the author of six works of fiction, including The Wishbones and Joe College. His novels Election and Little Children were made into acclaimed and award-winning movies.


 “An indiscriminate Rapture was no rapture at all.”

Every so often, we hear about some fundamentalist Christian leader proclaiming that so-and-so date is the expected date of the Rapture. But then the day passes by uneventfully, and oops, everyone is still around. Facepalm!  😉 But what if one day, a Rapture-like event does occur and millions of people just disappear? And what if the “Rapture” comes like a slap in the face of the believers – instead of God’s chosen believers being taken up, there’s no rhyme or reason for how people are chosen – young, old, good, bad, believer or unbeliever, sinful or not – it’s almost like a cosmic lottery took place and a random sampling of people were chosen. How would those left behind react or cope in the aftermath? That’s the thought-provoking premise that Tom Perotta takes on in his book The Leftovers (which takes place three years after such an event).

When I read the prologue for The Leftovers, I thought it was going to be a tragicomedy, but unfortunately, it turned stone-cold serious quickly. It’s a pity since I think the book would have worked much better if there were some dark humor worked in. The book is actually well written, with a very intriguing premise, but damn if it wasn’t completely depressing to read (and a bit dragging too). I know one thing, I sure don’t want to live in Tom Perotta’s post-Rapture world. At least, in Tim LaHaye & Jerry B. Jenkins’ Left Behind series, people have something to strive towards before the end (I’ve never read that series, but I think that’s the point of the Mr LaHaye & Jenkins). But in Perotta’s world, you don’t even have that, you’re essentially left in limbo – what do you do in a world where sure, the Pope was taken up (surely expected in the Rapture?), but so was Vladimir Putin (surely no saint?) and so was some random Latin American tyrant (definitely a sinner, right?). So, what’s the point of it all? No wonder everyone fell emotionally and psychically apart, illustrated particularly in one minor character –  a  bitter pastor who (feeling betrayed by God) completely derails post-Rapture (come to think of it, I would have much preferred if the book had concentrated on the priest’s more interesting story instead!)

I wished that Mr Perrotta had given us a glimpse of what’s happening in the big picture instead of just concentrating on one family (the Garvey’s) so much, mostly because I just couldn’t identify with any of the main characters. It’s hard to remain absorbed when you don’t particularly care what happens to the characters. There’s the dad Kevin (the new mayor of Mapleton) who’s determinedly cheerful and even more determined to move on, the mother Laurie who can’t move on at all, and falls into apathy (and a cult), the son Tom who also gets sucked into a cult (or two), the daughter Jill who seeks comfort in sex, alcohol and drugs … it’s only Laurie who actually ended up being a more interesting character for me – what with her involvement with the cult Guilty Remnant developing sinister overtones (and thus, adding a bit of suspense to the story where there was none). Unfortunately, I really loathed Laurie at the same time – for being such a defeatist and just helplessly inviting tragedy into her life and home (IMO she’s the reason her family turned dysfunctional).

I really loved the premise of the book; unfortunately, I thought the best part about The Leftovers was the prologue (although the ending chapters were pretty interesting too, especially that reveal about the Guilty Remnant‘s shadier aspects). I never really ‘got’ the characters, so I was mostly left wondering about the not-Rapture event. Wished Mr Perrotta had fleshed out that ‘Event” more.

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta (St. Martin’s Press) is available on Amazon as a Kindle edition, Hardcover edition, and Audible Audio Edition.

The eBook is also available at B&N, Apple iBookstore, Kobo books, Apple iBooks and Sony eBookstore.

For a second opinion – here’s some reviews of The Leftovers by other bloggers:

  • mallorylayne – “a great read from start to finish”
  • Stevil – “5 stars out of 5”
  • Shelf Love – “this book was well worth reading”

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