In mood and tone, Perrotta's book, The Leftovers reminds me a lot of the scene in Donnie Darko where the camera pans through everyone's despairing lives at night, to the tune of "Mad World." This is not a hopeful book, but it is a realistic book. And not everything turns out badly. (Not everything.)
This is not a hopeful book, but it is a realistic book.
The Leftovers begins right after a huge percentage of the world's population suddenly disappears. Good people and bad, of all religions as well as atheists. No one knows why they disappeared or what it means, although many people assume it is the Rapture.
But it doesn't really matter.
Everyone has lost someone, or been left behind (if you'll excuse the expression in this context). People die, they divorce, they cheat, they simply abandon you. Your job is to make sense of it, and to try and carry on. The same is true of the people in this book, and the fact that their loss comes from a shared cause doesn't matter as much as they (or the reader) might have thought.
What matters is how you handle being left. And frankly, most people do not handle it well. Nothing new there, I suppose. Although the individual way in which people handle it poorly is fascinating, and that is what Perrotta explores here.
It is also sort of about 9/11. In the wake of the tragedy, some people join cults. Others become belligerent. Others decide that nothing matters, so they start doing whatever they want. Why not? What do you have to lose.
The book follows a handful of characters as they ping pong through their own lives, occasionally ricocheting against (and away from) each other. I had some trouble following which character was which, as they were all somewhat similar: middle class, white, from a suburban small town. Their voices and narratives were sometimes indistinguishable. (I often have trouble with narratives that juggle multiple characters, though.)
I found it continually puzzling - and continually distracting - that one of the characters was named Tom, same as the author. Why, I had to wonder, would you name a character after yourself? The Tom character didn't seem to have particular significance (e.g. as an authorial stand-in) but maybe I don't know enough about Perrotta as a person to be able to tell.
The tension builds to a series of small, personal apocalypses. Not the End Of Days in a global sense, but on a personal level. Not with a bang, but with a whimper - and all the more realistic for it.