Book Title: The Leftovers
Author: Tom Perrotta
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Date Published: May 22nd, 2012
Date Read: May 21st, 2014
Cover Love: There are actually two different covers – men’s shoes and women’s shoes. The image is powerful – smoking, empty footwear. I think it conveys the premise of the book nicely.
Given Synopsis: “What if your life was upended in an instant? What if your spouse or your child disappeared right in front of your eyes? Was it the Rapture or something even more difficult to explain? How would you rebuild your life in the wake of such a devastating event? These are the questions confronting the bewildered citizens of Mapleton, a formerly comfortable suburban community that lost over a hundred people in the Sudden Departure. Kevin Garvey, the new mayor, wants to move forward, to bring a sense of renewed hope and purpose to his traumatized neighbors, even as his own family disintegrates. His wife, Laurie, has left him to enlist in the Guilty Remnant, a homegrown cult whose members take a vow of silence but haunt the town’s streets as “living reminders” of God’s judgment. His son, Tom, is gone, too, dropping out of college to follow a crooked “prophet” who calls himself Holy Wayne. Only his teenaged daughter, Jill, remains, and she’s definitely not the sweet “A” student she used to be.
Through the prism of a single family, Perrotta illuminates a familiar America made strange by grief and apocalyptic anxiety. The Leftovers is a powerful and deeply moving book about regular people struggling to hold onto a belief in their futures.”
What I’d Add: Yep, that’s pretty much what it’s about. Nothing to add.
It’s Sorta Like: Remember that TV show about people disappearing and then reappearing years later? The 4400. It was a good show! (And hey, The Leftovers is being turned into a TV show too! It’s scheduled as an HBO fall release. So you know it’ll have a ton more nudity and swearing than the book ever did.) And the recent book, The Returned by Jason Mott, is about the dead suddenly reappearing in their family and friends’ lives, having not aged since their death. It’s a big book and television trope: what happens when the people we love simply disappear, without an explanation? And what happens when they come back? The Leftovers only deals with the former.
My Grade: C-
It’s a book that you want so badly to be good. Excellent. Eye-opening. The lens of the story is a great idea: viewing this inexplicable phenomenon through the eyes of a single family. Mrs. Garvey leaves to be in a cult that smokes cigarettes to prove their proximity to death and follows people around town just to creep them out. The son, Tom, is trying to pick up the pieces from the dissolution of a different cult, the leader of which “married” a lot of underage girls, claimed to heal people with his hugs (seriously), and has now been thrown in jail. The daughter, Jill, was the Perfect Student, the Perfect Daughter, but is now going to parties with a Bad Influence Friend, not studying, and fooling around with a group of people and dudes she doesn’t really know a lot about. And Mr. Garvey is at home, trying to pretend that everything is okay and that no, he’s not all that lonely. He’s fine. Really.
But it’s just one set of eyes too many. It’s a lot of storylines and points of view to keep track of. And because there is so much background necessary for each family member’s storyline – the book takes place three years after the disappearances, so that’s three years of story to cover before the book’s present events can happen – action for each character is hindered. A character makes plans to go on a spur of the moment vacation, and the chapter ends. The next chapter begins weeks after that vacation. We don’t see the vacation. The plot skips over these important moments to grow and have characters interact with each other because it has to return to a different family member.
Plus, there are two cults going on. It makes sense that after such a traumatizing event, multiple groups like that would develop. But the book not only goes into too much detail for both groups, it introduces a third alternative-lifestyle – the Barefoot People – while detailing Tom’s adventures. It’s too much. Focusing on just one of these groups would have given the characters more of the attention they deserved.
And poor Tom. I just didn’t really care for his story. He could have not been a part of the story and I don’t think I would have missed him. Sorry, Tom.
Finally, I spent most of the book wondering where it was going. Were we going to get an explanation for the disappearances? (No, for the record. Don’t read this book if you’re looking for that answer). Would another Disappearance happen, and would this town just be wasting away? (OH! And another thing – were the Disappearances only in Mapleton?! If it were a worldwide thing, where was that perspective? Why weren’t government officials crawling all over the town still, analyzing it and trying to get to the root of the problem so maybe it wouldn’t happen again? Where was that tension?? It would have really helped…) The book responds to this with a series of minor events that don’t even feel like a plot point until 50 pages before the novel’s close, when a family member finds themselves at the center of the mystery. It’s not enough. The book isn’t about enough, despite it’s attempt to encompass so many different stories.
And the book needed 50 or so more pages to continue the conclusion. It did that thing where it ended where it should have begun telling the real story. If it had spent less time covering everything in the beginning sections, it could have built up the central mystery, and really created tension. I could have rated it a lot higher.
Overall, after reading this, I am skeptical about the show to be based off of it. It’s a strong premise, but the practice falls short. I really wish I could have gotten into it more! But it didn’t do it for me 😦