I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.
Tom Perrotta is fast becoming the master of the suburban dystopia genre. I thought his novel LITTLE CHILDREN was wonderfully complex and ELECTION was a wonderful portrayal of high school set against the backdrop of student council election. Now, Perrotta revisits familiar territory with a new spin. In THE LEFTOVERS, Perrotta explores what might happen to the people left behind if the Rapture actually did occur. Part of the genius in this construct lies in the fact that it isn't clear if the mass disappearance of people all the over the world really WAS the Rapture. People of all ages, creeds and backgrounds disappear on this fateful day. The novel opens one year after the Departure. Those left behind are trying to move on with their lives and trying to find meaning in what happened. Some people join cult-like groups in response to the event. These groups take on names such as the Guilty Remnant and the Barefoot People. Others look for answers in religious leaders such as those who follow self-styled prophet Holy Wayne. Others just try to get on with their lives and find some sense of normalcy. The genius in this book lies not in the Rapture-event itself. Perrotta doesn't spend much time dissecting what happened to the missing people or whether or not it really WAS the Rapture. He is more concerned with the fallout of the event and what happens to those who are left behind. The Departure is simply the impetus for everything that follows. Much of the discontent, confusion and feeling of displacement and loss could describe the state of the world as it is right now. These are people trying to make sense of the world around them in a wide variety of ways and some are more successful than others.
I really loved this book. I thought all the characters were so interesting and well-drawn. I spent a lot of time thinking how I would choose to live my life if I were one of the Leftovers. I was particularly drawn to the story of Nora Durst--a woman who lost her husband and two young children in the Departure. What make this event so particularly devastating is that it doesn't have the finality of death. No one really knows what happened to the missing people and if they will ever return. There can be no real closure or answers for anyone. The book is moving and sad and very thought-provoking.
BOTTOM LINE: Highly recommended. I feel certain this will be on my Top 10 of 2011 list in January. Well written and thought-provoking, this book is a very clever take on modern suburban malaise. I was sad when it ended because I felt there was so much more to say.