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THE LEFTOVERS by Tom Perrotta Kirkus Star

THE LEFTOVERS

By Tom Perrotta

Pub Date: Aug. 30th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-35834-1
Publisher: St. Martin's

A bestselling novelist returns with his most ambitious book to date.

Perrotta’s popular breakthrough with Little Children (2004) received additional exposure from a well-received movie adaptation, and his latest has plenty of cinematic possibility as well. The premise is as simple as it is startling (certainly for the characters involved). Without warning, the Rapture has come to pass, “the biblical prophecy came true, or at least partly true. People disappeared, millions of them at the same time, all over the world.” Yet the novel’s focus isn’t religious, and it really doesn’t concern itself with what happened or why. Instead, as the title suggests, it deals exclusively with those left behind, how they deal with something few had anticipated and fewer had expected to experience. Their world has changed irrevocably, yet in some ways it hasn’t really changed all that much. Life goes on, for the living, though the missing leave huge holes in it. Some deny the religious implications, preferring to refer to the more secular “Sudden Departure”; others question why those with deep flaws had been among the elect. A group that has dubbed itself the “Guilty Remnant” bears silent witness to the world of sin while awaiting its own judgment and reward. The wife of the town’s mayor leaves her home to join them, though “she hadn’t been raised to believe in much of anything, except the foolishness of belief itself.” Their son disappears from college to join the “Healing Hug” movement; their high-school daughter loses her bearings as the family disintegrates. The novel is filled with those who have changed their lives radically or discovered something crucial about themselves, as radical upheaval generates a variety of coping mechanisms. Though the tone is more comic than tragic, it is mainly empathic, never drawing a distinction between “good” and “bad” characters, but recognizing all as merely human—ordinary people dealing with an extraordinary situation.

There’s even a happy ending of sorts, as characters adapt and keep going, fortified by the knowledge that they “were more than the sum of what had been taken from” them.