Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book Review - Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: August 30th, 2011
Format: Paperback, 355 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

The Rapture has happened. Or at least an event that looks so much like the rapture that it makes no difference, except to those who are offended by the choices made as to those taken. How could they take the idolaters and not the true believers? Yet one thing is certain, with so many people now gone, everyones life has changed. Kevin Garvey's wife has left him to go and be a part of the new cult The Guilty Remnant, where she keeps silent and smokes all day while accusing her fellow citizens with her mere presence. Their daughter Jill has sunk into sex and drugs with her sexy new friend Aimee who walks around the Garvey house in almost nothing. Their son has joined another cult, the Healing Hug Movement, that seems to put a lot of stock into their holy leader, Wayne. Yet Nora Durst is the one suffering most, as she lost her husband and her children. While the town gathers to mourn those who have left, each of these people will continue on their own painful journey while the world seems to be in limbo, allowing grief to rule the day years later. Yet their journeys will cross, and in those brief moments, maybe they can try to move on.

The concept of this book is genius, the execution is another thing. Instead of finding the humor in his topic, Perrotta seems to have thought the book was an excuse to wallow in a midlife crisis and dwell overly long on grief. Add to that characters that are so shallow they verge on being less then one dimensional, especially the women, whose only way to deal with grief or their emotional traumas is to do something to their hair. Because obviously, all women are superficial and only skin deep. Whereas the male lead, Kevin Garvey, is living, in my opinion, Perrotta's dream life. His family has all deserted him, he has his daughter's hot friend living in the house, obviously every woman wants him because he has power as the mayor, and therefore his life is good. If Perrotta had been skewering this perception of male wish fulfilment, that might have been something, but it appears to be in earnest.

That's the whole problem in the book. It's earnest. Instead of lampooning weird end of days cults and the new mentality of the human race, we get people who have been given an excuse to wallow in their grief. Hundreds of pages of shallow wallowing. Because nothing is ever analysed, it just is. Nora Durst lost her family, so here's a hundred pages of her riding a bike and not thinking about the tragedy. Jill ditches school and does some tame drugs, oh, now that's a totally revolutionary way for a teenager to revolt now isn't it? This book is so shallow that if I were to throw it into the deep end of a pool it would come out without even moisture on it.

The Guilty Remnant and Holy Wayne with his Healing Hug Movement seemed to have potential, but instead it's basically Jim Jones and his "Kool-Aid" at work. Though there is no analysis of the parallels, no plugging into the zeitgeist that makes such organizations form. Everything is just surface. If you actually want humor and Jim Jones, go read Armistead Maupin's third Tales of the City book, Further Tales of the City. In fact, thinking of Maupin has now made me sadder, because there is a true comedic American writer and I'm sure given the same basic plot of this book he could have written a satire that pierced the American way of life while also tackling grief.

Needless to say this will be the first and last book by Perrotta that I ever read. He is mostly known for the book the classic Reese Witherspoon movie Election is based on, a fact that he himself is mighty proud of in his Q&A at the end of the book. Well Mr. Perrotta, you shouldn't be that full of yourself. You wrote a superficial little novel that reads as a pathetic roman a clef of yourself. I've seen into you and you are a trifling writer of meagre and bland talents and you have wasted my time with a book that was unable to deliver on it's premise. Also, just as a final note, if you only "rapture" up a small number of the population of the earth, there really can't be that many people missing from one small town in New Jersey now can there? Just saying, basic math!


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