“The Leftovers” by Tom Perrotta

The Leftovers” by Tom Perrotta (2011) – 355 pages

 My favorite realistic humorous writer about down-to-earth suburban life, Tom Perrotta, has now written a post-apocalyptic novel.   But Perrotta hasn’t strayed far from his other writing, because the apocalypse in the “The Leftovers” takes place in the typical United States suburb of Mapleton.

In the novel, the Rapture occurred three years ago removing a large number of the residents of Mapleton as well as all over the world.  These people just vanished immediately from their homes and families never to come back.  The people who weren’t taken away are “The Leftovers”.  This Rapture is not the same Rapture as the evangelical Christian Rapture where only the most Christian faithful are taken up to Heaven.  The Rapture in this novel was an indiscriminate Rapture that took away people of all faiths, nationalities, races, etc.  This Rapture took away the people randomly leaving some families intact like the mayor of Mapleton Kevin Hardy’s family and taking three out of four members of the family of Nora Durst.

Even the intact families like the Hardy’s have been affected profoundly.  Kevin’s wife Laurie has left their home and joined a cult called the ‘Guilty Remnant’, and his son Tom dropped out of college and is travelling around the country following an itinerant apocalyptic guru/preacher.

What we get in “The Leftovers” is the story of how all these suburban people, most of who are connected to the mayor’s family one way or another, continued on with their lives after The Rapture.  There are many characters and plot lines in the novel.  I suppose one could argue that there are too many characters and plots, but at the same time all of the activity in the novel keeps things interesting.   The book shines when Tom Perrotta gets down to writing the details of these suburban people’s lives.

This concept of The Rapture is  a rather dismal backdrop for the prosaic events in this suburban novel, and it squelches much of the potential humor.  I think Perrotta would have been better off not even using the term  The Rapture.  A lot of people associate The Rapture with that lunatic holier-than-thou evangelical notion that only showed that Christians are just as susceptible to crazed Right-Wing delusions as Muslims.  These evangelicals were aided and abetted by many opportunistic politicians who used The Rapture as their justification for spoiling life for people here on Earth.

I longed for a more everyday suburban story.  Ultimately Perrotta is able to impart the ordinary lives of these left-over people with the empathy and humor he is justly famous for, but by that time the novel was nearly over.  In the last few chapters Perrotta is able to hit his story-telling stride, but up until then too much of the story had the grim aspect of survivors’ stories.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. I’ve heard good things about Perotta, and it sounds odd enough that I might like it, though I have to admit this whole Rapture thing puts me off. Still, I like SF as well as literary fiction, and perhaps the Rapture is a kind of SF strain in the story. The suburban story sounds very good.

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  2. Hi Frisbee,
    If you read the ‘The Leftovers’, I think you will find that Perrotta is an excellent writer trapped here with a not very good premise. Utimately the good writer wins out, but it is a struggle. My favorite Perrotta is still ‘Election’. I’ve read four of his books.

    It would be difficult to classify ‘The Leftovers’ as Sci-Fi as the people in the suburbs are still so down-to-earth. .

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  3. Oh, I’m always hoping for SF. Darn. 🙂 But perhaps I will pick this up. I am trying to read more contemporary fiction .

    The real reason I’m reluctant to read a novel about ANY kind of Rapture is the terrifying arty ’90s movie, Michael Tolkin’s The Rapture, in which one woman is left behind (furious and refusing to repent, as I remember, and what a lot of dust was left behind, too).

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