Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers was recommended to me by a colleague. At the time of the book suggestion, the HBO TV series based on this book had recently started. Because no one in the office had read the book, having a discussion about the book as opposed to the TV show couldn’t happen. So, I decided I would read the book and begin watching the HBO show.
Let’s just skip through pretty much the whole season of the show because that’s how long it took me to read and digest the book. Granted, I did finish editing my new book and published it on Amazon then began a book promotions blitz but I digress.
The point being, I did not get into Perrotta’s book until approximately 10 days ago. From the time I started reading it, I couldn’t get into the characters. While they were interesting and a catastrophic event called the Sudden Rapture took place (where thousands of people disappeared instantly never to be seen again) making all of the book’s character incredibly traumatized — I couldn’t get past what I saw as a huge negativity problem.
Generally speaking, I tend to read books with some sort of positivity &/or an upbeat tempo with a fast-driving plot. I am very plot-driven when I write and when I read. The Leftovers is written in that more literary style where the story is about the characters, their interactions with one another and the emotional evolutionary arc they travel from the beginning of the book to the end of the tome.
Perrotta is an excellent writer. He keeps you awake with pithy believable conversations between the characters and great phrases that I recalled even after I put the book down for the day (and yes, I read this in its hardcover edition; no Kindle for this book). One phrase I particularly enjoyed is “One Nut, One Speech.”
I’ll back up and tell you the set-up of the story. In the book’s timeline, three years ago, an unthinkable thing occurred. Thousands upon thousands of people simply vanished. They were driving their car, eating dinner, walking to school, sitting and clowning around with friends and then the next second they were not there. The book is the story about what happened to the people who did not disappear — the leftovers.
There is no general governmental consensus as to what happened and why the people who disappeared — disappeared. Some people believe that it was God’s Rapture where the Holy were taken up to the heavens to be one with God. Others didn’t believe that because the people who were taken were not all God-fearing people. In fact, many of those taken were full of transgressions (i.e. – sins) but they were still taken. Yet, others who were saintly and strove to be the best they could be were not taken. There seemed to be no clear hard and fast rules for who was taken and who was not.
The ‘villans’ in the book is a group that sprung up after the Sudden Rapture called the Guilty Remnant (GR). The GR’s leader is a man whose son disappeared. His moniker is Holy Wayne (and the Wayners – how cool is that?). The GR are people who are so traumatized (read: damaged) from dealing with the fallout of their loved ones being taken they need to escape. The GR is not a religious group but they do wear white and smoke cigarettes. The kicker is they follow people around to remind folks that there’s someone always watching. GR patrols follow the townspeople around and take a vow of silence to make those they follow feel uncomfortable.
The Leftovers is a book that explores the boundaries of the human spirit and its capacity to deal with the unknown. While I do not find a true plot, I would say that this book is, again, using a literary device and making plot as theme. For me, that theme is people must have something they believe in that is greater than themselves. Why? Because when something so unfathomable happens it takes a while to believe in anything good again. Yeah, that’s the theme as plot. While there are other threads running through the story such as:
* since the world is unhinged must I still adhere to morality?
* since no one knows if we be will here tomorrow there’s no room for regret
* because there is no point in getting excited about the future let’s wallow in the thick sludge that is our present reality and stay there; no weddings, no parties, no fun
Needless to say, the book is not one overflowing with the Pollyanna viewpoint. However, if you can get past this, The Leftovers is a really fascinating read. You get to see the world have a physical, emotional and psychological meltdown and this goes across ethnicities, countries, sex and sexual orientation — everyone is affected in the world.
I have not watched the HBO series but I wonder how those writers will treat this material. You’ve heard it time and again that the book is never as good as the book, right? I’m wondering how this will compare as the book has many tangents that were not fully explored that may be exploited/expounded upon in the TV series. I guess I can start watching it now.
In the meantime, I give this book…