As professional consumers, Americans know that few things are as advertised. Take the Rapture in Tom Perrotta’s new novel, The Leftovers. The people who populate Earth in Perrotta’s latest aren’t even sure if the sudden departure of millions of fellow human beings *is* the rapture. It appears to be more of a random harvest, taking both believer and non-believer, the secular and the spiritual. Meanwhile, many God-fearing believers who banked on being taken up find themselves left behind.
Better to call it a “rapture-like” event, or simply the “sudden departure.”
The unknown quality of the tragedy only adds to the author’s exploration of how people deal with loss. How many of us have cried “Why?!” to heaven in Job-like despair? It’s horrible, but there are no answers, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
And so… we go on living, searching for something that will help us put all these pieces back into some comprehensible shape. And that is what The Leftovers is all about.
It’s the story of the Garvey family of Mapleton, Massachusetts. None of the Garveys have departed, but they must now survive in this strange, new world:
• Father Kevin is serving as the town’s new mayor, trying to speed the healing process in his community.
• Mother Laurie abandons her family to join a cult called the Guilty Remnant, whose members take a vow of silence, wear white robes, and follow people around and stare at them so as to be a constant reminder that the world is ending and we better be ready. (Oh, and they are required to always be smoking when they’re out in public, to emphasize the fact that the end is near, so, like, “why worry about lung cancer?”)
• Teenage daughter Jill, a witness to the disappearance of a friend, is reeling from the departure.
• Son Tom is following the prophet Holy Wayne, who apparently has the ability to absorb the pain of others for a brief time.
It’s also the story of Nora Durst, a woman who lost her entire family to the departure. Her pain and guilt are palpable.
As I followed these characters on their journey, I was treated to an inside look into the Guilty Remnant, the fall of Holy Wayne, the cruelty of fanaticism, the odd and surprising connections that operate around us, and—ultimately—the harvest of hope that I immediately recognized as grounded and true, for it’s the harvest that has kept mankind going since our beginnings. It’s the one that says, “Here. Look what I’ve found.” There is a reason to go on. There is a reason to live.
Perrotta has a way with words. Beyond the story of these lost souls, readers are treated to a dose of writing that rings as true as that final harvest.
If you haven’t read Perrotta before, you may be familiar with two movies adapted from his novels: Election, a dark and hilarious work about an ambitious and insufferable high school girl and the male teacher who tries to get in her way; and Little Children, a trip through suburbia accompanied by pedophilia, infidelity, and redemption.