Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Perrotta's Newest Takes An Original Look at Grief

(Image from Indiebound)

On an ordinary October day, millions of people all over the world vanish into thin air. Without a warning, just poof! they're gone. It might be the Rapture, although that doesn't really make sense considering the missing consist of every kind of human - young, old, celebrity, average Joe, wealthy, penniless, saint, sinner. Plus, the event isn't followed by the apocalypse or any other sign that the world's ending. It just happens. And then it's over. Three years later, only one thing is really clear: The gone are not coming back. As the rest of humanity, the "leftovers," try to move past their grief and befuddlement, the questions linger. Why were some people taken? More importantly, why were some left behind?

Ever since the tragedy struck, people have been finding their own ways to cope. Kevin Garvey, mayor of the small town of Mapleton, would like to forget about the whole Rapture-ish mess and go back to the life he used to know and (mostly) enjoy. That's impossible now, though. His wife, 46-year-old Laurie Garvey, has joined up with the Guilty Remnant, a group that lives communally and whose members act as silent reminders of those missing from their communities. His college dropout son has followed a polygamous cult leader to who-knows-what part of the country. As for his 17-year-old daughter, she hasn't left in a physical sense, but her good-girl personality has certainly taken a leave of absence. Kevin's not sure how to salvage what's left of his own life, let alone help his beloved hometown recover from its loss.

Just as Kevin struggles to comes to terms with what has happened, so do the other members of his family. As time wears on, each must examine his or her own faith, resolve and commitment to their chosen causes. Each must answer the question (Why, why, why?) for him/herself. Each must face his/her grief and pain in his/her own way - and each must face the consequences of his/her own actions. By doing all this, maybe, just maybe, they can move on into a future that seems less certain than ever.

Considering the great question on which the book hinges, you might think Tom Perrotta's new novel, The Leftovers, would spend some time actually solving the mystery of what happened to all the people who disappeared. Not so. Because the novel really isn't about those who vanished, it's about those who didn't. It's about the survivors - their guilt, their grief, and the ways they do or do not get on with their lives. And, really, that's all the book's about. It's rather plotless, actually, but I can honestly say I was never bored with it. The characters, flawed and confused though they may have been, kept me intrigued. Overall, though, I found The Leftovers depressing. The characters make selfish choices, which leaves the story with too little optimism or hope. All of which left me feeling disappointed and gloomy. It's a bummer because I enjoyed the book's premise, Perrotta's writing and the in-depth characterization that makes this novel so compelling. I guess I just wanted a little more from it.

(Readalikes: Um, I can't really think of anything. Can you?)

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for strong language, sexual content, violence and depictions of underrage drinking and illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find

1 comment:

  1. I've picked this up and mulled over it at the bookstore.. reading your review gives me some direction, and it is officially on my TBR list :)

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