Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Just Read: The Leftovers

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
*spoilers after the jump

I remember reading this NY Times review by Stephen King of The Leftovers about a year ago. As I do with the many books I want to read, I added it to my ever growing book list (a messy google document that I cut and paste things to) and just left it at that. It wasn't until a couple of weeks ago that Vulture wrote an article that via a Deadline report, that The Leftovers was going to be adapted into a project for HBO. Damon Lindelof (the co-creator of Lost) will team up with the book's writer, Tom Perrotta (he also wrote Little Children and Election) to write the pilot this summer.

So The Leftovers is based on a post-Rapture world. Remember Harold Camping? He was the doomsday prophet that predicted that Jesus would return to Earth on May 21, 2011 and that the world would after five months of fire, brimstone and plague on October 21, 2011.

Obviously that didn't happen. But this book is based on a similar idea of the world after a Rapture. Millions of people disappear for no reason and the story is about the people who are left behind (the leftovers) and how they deal with getting on (or not getting on) with their lives after the event. It opens up three years after the Rapture and takes place for the most part in a small town called Mapleton. It is largely centered around one family, the Garvey family, Kevin, Laurie and their two children, Tom and Jill. Though this family drifts apart it keeps up with each character as they progress over a year or so.

The mother Laurie joins the Guilty Remnant, a cult that stalks people to make them remember the Rapture and basically wait for the end of the world. They give up worldly frivolities and show their acceptance of death by smoking in public.

There's the son Tom, who after being at college can't deal with the stress and joins a hugging cult (a cult that gives out hugs) that turns out to have it's leader take on young teenage brides and eventually get sent to prison. After being feeling taken advantage of, Tom then joins the Barefoot People who believe they should party 24/7 until the end of the world.

And we haven't even gotten started on the dad Kevin or the daughter Jill yet. Or the rest of the residents of Mapleton.

What this book does is interconnect it's characters and gives each character a different path and their own way to deal with being a leftover. With an event as traumatic as a Rapture, it's easy to see how the cults such as the few touched on in this book could develop. It's easy to see how Rev. Matt Jamison, who didn't get taken away, could reject god and could go to the extremes he did to tarnish the memory of those that did.

At one point you think that Laurie might come around and see that the martyrdom sought by the Guilty Remnant is a bit nutso, but in the end that is not the case. She's even further gone than you thought she could have been.

And then the book just ends. The characters go on living their lives and the story just ends for the reader with no explanation as to what the Rapture actually was. I felt cheated by this. I think I may have even muttered this to the boyfriend when I closed the book as I lay on my couch. But in reading the Vulture interview with Lindelof, it seems this is Perrotta's style of not answering questions like these.

The book is in itself not terribly exciting (no giant Armageddon at the end) but it's still an interesting read on human response to a situation as unexplainable as millions of people disappearing for no reason.

Since the HBO adaptation will be co-written by the Perrotta and Lindelof, I am interested in seeing how they explain the disappearance of the people to the viewers. The Vulture interview said "Lindelof and Perrotta agreed the answer to the question "did matter and [viewers] needed to know.", so maybe I'll have go hope that the pilot gets the go-ahead so I can find out Perrotta's take on what the Rapture was.

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