The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

A series of dismal Amazon reviews is typically enough to dissuade me from reading a particular book, but a general hatred towards Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers was no match for my recent affinity for Justin Theroux. That’s right – I saw Justin on the cover, and so I bought it. In spite of that old adage, though, choosing a book based on the cover actually paid off this time.

The Leftovers is set in the small town of Mapleton, New York in the years following the “Sudden Departure,” an event in which much of the world’s population simply vanished into thin air. By setting the story in the event’s aftermath, Perrotta depicts a world that has adjusted, but still faces the lingering impact of the “Sudden Departure.” The general atmosphere feels depressingly accurate, for the survivors have become largely apathetic even though a world-changing, cataclysmic event has essentially just occurred. Some people have moved on, some have formed cults, turned to extremist religion, or just don’t care. This is what distinguishes The Leftovers from the infamous Left Behind series. Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ series depicts a fictional rapture from a purely religious standpoint, whereas Perrotta’s The Leftovers provides a more secular, skeptical perspective. I’ve actually never read the Left Behind series, though, so be aware that my opinion is solely based on my judgement of the covers.

This novel is great for many reasons, but mainly because it is probably pretty accurate. We like to think that an event of Biblical proportions would changes us for the better; in reality, these results are only temporary. Eventually, things go back to normal. Softball leagues pick back up, bars reopen, school resumes. The extremists are there, but for the most part, life goes on. I remember watching a documentary on the History Channel about Jesus’ apostles. Apparently, the world was supposed to end not too long after the resurrected Christ ascended  into Heaven, and thus many of the New Testament writings are directed to a people that fully believed that the end could happen at any time. In The Leftovers, the religious groups stress that the Rapture is the precursor to the end of days, and yet the story takes place years later – nothing else has happened. It shows a population in limbo, and it does so in a humorous, touching, and very real way.

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