Saints and sinners

The Leftovers
Tom Perrotta

As I mentioned last post in my ‘Next Up’ blurb, I loaded The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta on my Kindle after leaving behind (pun!) Misfortune at my daughter’s. When the Left Behind series was all the rage several years ago I had no desire to even pick up the books. In no way does pre-millenialism figure into my beliefs–and, in fact, the idea is so abhorrent to me that the very word makes me shudder. (And now that I’ve alienated a certain percentage of my readers, I’ll continue.) But the idea of a secular author writing about an idea usually associated with conservative Christians definitely aroused my curiosity–and while I can nitpick about certain plot devices or characters, I must say I was strangely okay with the novel.

This rapture differs from the version I’ve heard about most often where the righteous are taken up to Heaven in a blink of an eye to be spared from the great Tribulation that will serve to purify some of the dross so that those souls, too, can enter Heaven–and the rest … well, we know where they go. (Okay, so you might have guessed I have been exposed to this teaching a little more than I’d like to let on!) No, the rapture in The Leftovers is indiscriminate, taking sinners as well as saints. That, it seems, is why these departures are so disturbing–there is no explanation why some are taken and others not. And it’s that dissonance that leads to the leftovers’ anxiety.

So we watch the Garvey family fall apart: wife Laurie joining up with the Guilty Remnant, fanatics who keep a vow of silence and follow folks to intimidate them into moral living; son Tom, to the Healing Hug movement, started by fanatic Holy Wayne; and husband Kevin, the small town mayor who tries to hold it all together for  daughter Jill. We follow Christine, Holy Wayne’s pregnant sixteen-year-old spiritual wife, his Holy Vessel, as she travels incognito to safe shelter with a supporter, and Nora Durst, known as the Woman Who Lost Everything–her husband, son, and daughter. Each deals with the “Why me?” that accompanies any disaster and seeks to fill the void any way they can: some with alcohol, others with fanaticism, and still others with isolation.

One of the devices I loved in the novel was Perotta’s effortless use of what I’ll call public euphemism–kind of like what we have after 9-11: Ground Zero, Patriot’s Day. In this world they celebrate Departed Heroes Day of Remembrance and Reflection, for instance, and Hero’s Day and whispered around those who were Eyewitnesses, those who actually saw the departures. I have to believe if something like this happened, the United States would also shut down schools and honor the departed. I think I’ve finally identified a plot trend that really, really causes me to dislike contemporary fiction, though–like The Cookbook Collector this novel almost read like a screen play for a movie or TV show. The description of events, people, and places isn’t even writer-ly–but I could sure see it on the small screen. That gripe aside, The Leftovers kept me turning swiping the page. And any book that ends with a baby and this note “This little girl has no name. Please take good care of her.” has my vote. I think they should name the baby Hope.

Next up: … is really last up–my Misfortune has returned and I am well on my way to finishing it. Odd. Puzzling. Gender-bending. Very worthwhile read if you can take the odd, the puzzling, and the gender-bending.

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