all words: Ross Bonaime
Book Title: The Leftovers by Tom Perotta
Book Type: fiction
You May Enjoy This If You Liked: The Returned by Jason Mott, Little Children by Tom Perotta
Tom Perotta’s The Leftovers is about a tragedy long after the tragedy has passed. Three years prior to the book’s beginning, a “rapture-like” occurrence has made two percent of the world’s population just disappear out of thin air. Instead of becoming a Left Behind style telling of the apocalypse, Perotta throws those ideas aside by mentioning that while yes, The Pope did disappear on that fateful day, so did Gary Busey, so this likely wasn’t The Lord’s Will.
What is left in the wake of this horrible mass loss are people searching for meaning in this new world. There’s clearly something bigger going on, yet there aren’t any answers to be found, just the remnants of the loved ones who left. Perotta chooses to focus his attention on the city of Mapleton, New York, more specifically on the Garvey family. Kevin Garvey is the mayor of Mapleton, who has lost his wife Laurie to The Guilty Remnant – one of the many religious groups that have popped up in the last three years. The Guilty Remnant are a group of smoking people who wear all white, refuse to speak and want to make sure the world doesn’t go back to normal. Laurie is given a new recruit named Meg to watch over and teach the ways of The GR, even though Meg doesn’t seem like she’ll be able to make the cut.
Kevin and Laurie’s daughter Jill is amongst the town’s teens who dabble in experimentation, recreationally taking drugs and casual sex, less of a way to have fun and more of a way to feel anything. Jill’s friend Aimee has moved in with the Garvey’s, causing friction with Laurie while helping Kevin through this rough time.
The weakest member of The Leftovers is the oldest son Tom, who left college to follow another religious group that follows a man known as Holy Wayne, who can hug the pain out of his followers. However once Holy Wayne starts to show some cult-like tendencies and is in danger from the authorities, Tom is put in charge of protecting Christine – one of Wayne’s underage brides – who is pregnant with what Wayne believes is the son of God.
Also in Mapleton is Nora, who has suffered the most loss three years ago by losing her husband and both children. Nora spends most of her days in a daze, watching her child’s old Spongebob episodes and mourning. Yet meeting Kevin at a local dance and finding out her husband had cheated on her before disappearing puts her life in a new direction.
The Leftovers has these and other characters dealing with the aftermath of this earth-changing phenomenon in their own ways. Perotta shows the ways that we deal with pain, like ignoring it, finding deeper meaning or escapism. In these attempts, we see a world that is so similar to our own, yet filled with moments that are shocking at times in how the mindset of people has changed.
Perotta only shows us a fraction of these people’s lives and their situation, but where they came from and where they’re heading is fascinating to ponder. But even amongst all of the loss and agony, Perotta presents a picture of hope at the end. People can change, much like they did three years ago, and sometimes its for the better. There’s always the possibility that the future has some glimmer of redemption waiting to save us from ourselves.