Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Delicate Examination of Life After Unexpected, Life-Changing Events

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta (St. Martin’s Press, 2011, 368pp.)

Everyone in the town of Mapleton either knows someone who lost a loved one on October 14, the day known as the Sudden Departure. A spouse, a child, a parent - sometimes entire families - suddenly vanished from the face of the earth. Has the Rapture occurred? Or something else?

Different people handle the mysterious event in different ways. Some flock to self-proclaimed prophets like polygamist Holy Wayne. Some join the Guilty Remnant, an organization of fanatics who see the human race as unworthy of joy, and feel that they - and everyone else, for that matter - should remain utterly miserable until the wretched end of the human species. Most, however, just try to carry on life as usual. It really is interesting to see the parallels Perrotta draws in his novel. The characters’ habit of reverently referring to the Sudden Departure as “October 14th” is reminiscent of 9/11. Holy Wayne resembles any popular public figure whose career ends in scandal. I have to say, though, that the most delightfully imagined aspect of the book are the members of the Guilty Remnant. To belong in the organization, you have to wear only white, take a vow of silence, become a dedicated smoker, and follow people around town and stare at them accusingly (the most frequent targets are amorous couples, new mothers pushing baby strollers, or anyone who has determined to move past the trauma of 10/14 and carry with their daily lives).

This is a delicate examination of life after unexpected, life-changing events. The characters are the sole focus, and the author (thankfully) choses to leave any explanation for the Sudden Departure up to the reader. Not for those who prefer plot-driven fiction.

Click on cover for image source.

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