Monday, December 05, 2011

Masked Mom's Media Monday: The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta--UPDATED

"We are like sheep without a shepherd,
We don't know how to be alone,
So we wander 'round this desert,
And wind up following the wrong gods home."
performed by The Eagles, written by Don Henley & Stanley Lynch

Tom Perrotta's novel The Leftovers opens in the aftermath of the disappearance (literally into thin air) of millions of people around the world. The official word is "It was a Rapture-like phenomenon, but it doesn't appear to have been the Rapture." The event scientists, pundits, and politicians dub the "Sudden Departure" is interpreted--and used to advantage--in a variety of ways by different groups and individuals worldwide.

The suburban town of Mapleton, where most of the action takes place is home to a chapter of the "Guilty Remnant," a cult-like group who believe the "Sudden Departure" was the Rapture and have taken it upon themselves to "save" as many of the left behind as possible. The outward behavior of the group's members is distressing. They wear white, constantly smoke cigarettes in public, maintain strict vows of silence, and wander around town in pairs at all hours of the day and night as "Watchers," silently monitoring the behavior of their former friends and neighbors: "They just stood there, calm and expressionless, sucking on their cigarettes. It was supposed to remind you that God was watching, keeping track of your smallest actions--at least that was what Kevin had heard--but the effect was mostly just annoying, something a little kid would do to get on your nerves." As the story progresses and one of the main characters, Laura Garvey, becomes more deeply involved with the Remnant, the creepy and inconvenient outward behavior of its members pales in comparison to the sinister goings-on behind the scenes of Guilty Remnant.  

The central characters in the book--Laura Garvey and her husband, Kevin, and college-age son, Tom, and teenage daughter, Jill, each deal with the cataclysmic shift in their understanding of the world in their own separate ways and each choice has its own set of consequences.

The search for meaning is practically universal, especially in the wake of incomprehensible events. Where and how we seek those answers may reveal as much about us as any external "answers" ever could. Desperation for answers can lead us into some desperate situations, as the Garveys learn in the course of the book.

With characters who take different "sides" in some of the essential questions about life--the search for meaning, the importance and place for faith, how (and whether) to carry on in the face of incapacitating grief--it would've been easy for Perrotta's characters to drift into caricature, to become two-dimensional representations of polar opposite positions. Instead, as was true in his previous work The Abstinence Teacher, Perrotta shows us not just how people are, but how they may have gotten that way. It helps us to understand that even people with whom we most vehemently disagree may be just doing the best they can.

Masked Mom's One-Word Review:  Recommended.

Find information about the audiobook and the opportunity to win a free copy here.


  1. I have to be in the right frame of mind for Tom Perotta. Your review has me intrigued, though. I shall have to add this to my holds at the library.

  2. Sounds very interesting! I will add this to the ever-growing 'to read at some point' list!

  3. I've never read anything Tom Perrotta, but I might have to add this one to the reading list.

    Oh, and I’ve awarded you for your utter awesomeness (and for the chance that you might repay me with cookies). Just clickety-click to collect your goodies.

    You realize, of course, that by ‘goodies,’ I mean a pic that you totally could have swiped anyway and not felt any obligation to meet the demands that come with being an award winner, right? Yeah, I thought so.

  4. I've never read any of his books either, but I'm very interested. What you said about the way he tells how people become who they are is so profound.