The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

10762469The biblical prophecy came true, or at least partly true. People disappeared, millions of them at the same time all over the world. This wasn’t some ancient rumor – a dead man coming back to life during the Roman Empire – or a dusty homegrown legend, Joseph Smith unearthing golden tablets in upstate New York, conversing with an angel. This was real.

Perrotta is known for his satire. And he’s amazing at it. I previously read The Abstinence Teacher and was really yearning for more of Perrotta’s particular brand of satire. The Leftovers was even more enjoyable. But if you’re in this book looking for an in depth discussion of the ‘rapture’ – you’ll need to look elsewhere. The ‘rapture’ is only a catalyst for the actual story – a place for a seemingly normal suburban American family to lose themselves and begin the long struggle back to themselves. Or some version of themselves.

Perotta’s language and story is straightforward and very pleasurable to read. The satire is obvious and yet subtle all at once. Sometimes his larger commentary sneaked up on me until he turned a very witty phrase and opened my eyes to the actual conversation he had been having with me the whole time. Well played, Tom.

The family we’re following – the Garveys – aren’t even directly affected by the ‘rapture’. No family members go missing and yet all are deeply and complexly emotionally traumatized. Mom leaves her family behind to join a cult. Dad comes out of retirement to become city mayor. Son abandons college to follow around a charismatic, crazy prophet who is probably taking advantage of teenage girls looking to birth the new baby Jesus. And previously quiet, smart daughter turns wild, sexually promiscuous, and oddly observant of the underlying truth about her once normal family members. And then there’s Nora – unrelated but soon intricately linked to the Garveys. But unlike the Garveys, she has lost everyone.

The Leftovers feels like a brief journey with these people on their way past the initial shock and healing following such a traumatic event. The ending doesn’t wrap up neatly, and we’re hardly sure whether anyone truly has a happy ending. Hell, some of the characters are left with pretty much no ending at all. We just abandon ship as they continue on their respective paths. I liked that uncertainty while other readers have bemoaned the unfinished conclusion. But life is like that. Life doesn’t have tidy endings and happily ever afters – not really. Perrotta’s story is definitely about the journey and not the destination. He has a lot to say about society and how tragedy affects us. Particularly the role of religion and family – human connection and fellowship. Highly recommended!