Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Six Month Old Leftovers

(In case you haven't already read it...)

Here’s the deceptively intriguing premise of Tom Perrotta’s 2011 hit, The Leftovers:  A Rapture-like event has left a gaping hole in the world’s population – maybe an eighth of all people have suddenly vanished (my guesstimate – I don’t think any numbers are offered).  There’s no pattern or demographic trend to be gleaned from those that have departed.  They run the gamut from newborn to active senior, evil-doer to Boy Scout.  The disappearances cannot be explained through logic or a prophesized grand exit.  Just poof.

Exciting, right?
The weeks and months immediately following such a cataclysmic event would assuredly be a riveting time of mass hysteria - plane crashes, explosions, governments toppling.  It would also be a time of harrowing life-saving efforts and historic acts of leadership (not to mention lots of caution-to-the-wind hooking up).  It would be the makings of an epic page-turner of a novel.  But that’s not what this book is about.
The Leftovers examines the calm after the storm, the new normal.  Perrotta (Election, Little Children) places his sixth novel in the small Northeastern town of Mapleton, which functions as a case study in the mass existential funk that settles over the left behind.  Many people are unable to continue their past trajectories when the normalcy of their previous existences is irreconcilable with the current set of circumstances. Some leave their families to join one of the myriad new cults.  Others withdraw into deep depressions or self-destructive behavior.  But most just get on with their lives, forming softball leagues and taking the SATs, doing their best to resolidify the bonds of family and community.  Ho-hum.

But was it aliens!?

The Leftovers’ lack of pizzazz is sort-of what gives it its character.  Perrotta depicts the resiliency of the human spirit by showing that regardless of the trauma, we’ll always bounce back to boring.

Ransom - Reference

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