Monday, October 10, 2011

book review: The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

The backstory: Tom Perrotta is my favorite author. I eagerly awaited the release of his newest novel, The Leftovers, for months.

The basics: One day in Mapleton, a typical suburban community, a hundred people suddenly disappear. Is it the Rapture? If so, many who are left behind wonder, why was I not taken when so-and-so was? The novel focuses on the impact of the Sudden Departure on one family. Kevin becomes mayor (at the request of many locals) and aims to foster community and healing. Meanwhile his wife, Laurie, joins the Guilty Remnant, a local cult that forbids speaking and contact with loved ones. Their son Tom drops out of college and begins following the sketchy prophet Holy Wayne. Their daughter Jill was with her best friend, who disappeared during the Sudden Departure, and struggles.

My thoughts: In short: I loved it. Tom Perrotta has often written about suburbia, and this novel maintains many of those hallmarks. This novel also incorporates religion and belief in beautiful, haunting ways. Although I want to believe if I survived the Sudden Departure I would remain sensible, it's impossible to say. By focusing on the prolonged aftermath rather than the departure and its immediate aftermath, Perrotta writes a more thoughtful novel. Although the subject matter borders speculative fiction, Perrotta's concern is the people, not the event itself. In this sense, it's classic Perrotta: an exploration of the details and emotions of life in a suburban town. Another way The Leftovers didn't often feel like speculative fiction was its firm rooting in the world as we know it:
"The coverage felt different from that of September 11th, when the networks had shown the burning towers over and over. October 14th was more amorphous, harder to pin down: There were massive highway pileups, some train wrecks, numerous small-plane and helicopter crashes--luckily, no big passenger jets went down in the United States, though several had to be landed by terrified copilots, and one by a flight attendant who'd become a folk hero for a little while, one bright spot in a sea of darkness--but the media was never able to settle upon a single visual image to evoke the catastrophe."
One of the reasons I love Tom Perrotta's novels is the balance of humor, intelligence and simply beautiful prose.  He makes me laugh, but he makes me think more. His writing is filled with insight, but his characters truly shine. The ensemble in The Leftovers was magnificent. The alternating narrators worked. Although some characters narrated more than others, they were just as well-developed. I don't think of this novel as the story of Kevin and Laurie, even though they are its focus. The scope of Perrotta's writing has always been larger than its characters, and that trend continues.

I'm still convinced Tom Perrotta is an under-appreciated literary genius, and The Leftovers may be his best work yet. With an author I love this much and whose work I've read for more than ten years, it's difficult to pick a favorite, but it's even more difficult to accurately assess quality. When I think of his past novels, I also think of where I was in life, both literally and figuratively, when I read them.

Favorite passage: "Laurie Garvey hadn't been raised to believe in the Rapture. She hadn't been raised to believe in much of anything, except the foolishness of belief itself."

The verdict: The premise of The Leftovers is as impressive as its execution. It's thoughtful and intelligent, but laughter and humanity make it not only impressive but incredibly relatable. It's a literary novel that can very well appeal to fans of popular fiction.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Length: 368 pages
Publication date: August 30, 2011
Source: I received a copy for review from the publisher, but I also bought it for my Kindle

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  1. Ooh your favorite? This definitely does sound good and I trust that I'll enjoy this as well despite the sort of speculative fiction part of it. I have this and hope to get to it soon!

  2. I am very anxious to read this one. I should be getting a copy soon. Your review makes me even more excited to read it.

  3. I haven't tried Perrotta, but he has been on my radar for a while. I think your comments about him being an under appreciated literary genius may just have pushed me into trying him. :-)

  4. There's been such a buzz about this book! I've never read Perrotta but this one intrigues me.

  5. Yet another glowing review! I really need to get my hands on a copy of this one!

  6. I just got this one and am really excited to read it. I am also a big Perrotta lover, and have heard such interesting things about this book. Heck, the premise is interesting enough! Glad to hear that it was such a success for you and that the characters were so three-dimensional. It sounds like it's going to be a great read for me!

  7. Wow, this book does sound wonderful. I love a book that is far reaching but ultimately relateable.

  8. Who can resist that review! I think I might have copy of Leftovers here. The cover looks familiar.

  9. Well, you've convinced me! Tom Perrotta has been on my radar for a while, and I do love an underappreciated genius. Glad to hear The Leftovers is a winner, and the premise definitely intrigues me!

  10. Just finished "The Leftovers" this morning - definitely an interesting read with a great premise. Not sure that I dug the ending, but it was still rewarding overall.

    Did you see they are developing it as a show for HBO?

    1. Yes, and I cannot wait! I'm hoping they'll get it right. I think there's a lot of possibility in making it a series. There was a great interview with Damon Lindelof on Vulture last week ( ).

      I adored the ending, but I can see how it wouldn't be satisfying to some. Have you read other Perrotta?

    2. I have not. I suspect his typical novel is a bit too suburbia for my tastes. This one had just the right amount of twist to pull me into it with its rapture launching point.

  11. I enjoyed this one, though not as much as The Abstinence Teacher. That's great news about the HBO movie. I'll have to catch that.


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