'The Leftovers'

'The Leftovers' August 29, 2011

Caught Terry Gross’ interview Thursday with author Tom Perrotta on NPR’s “Fresh Air.” Perrotta’s new novel, Gross says:

… starts with this premise: What if suddenly millions of people instantaneously vanished around the world in a scenario similar to but definitely different from the Rapture?

The novel is about those people left on Earth or, as the title puts it, The Leftovers. Perrotta writes about how they cope with grief and loss and why some see this as an act of God and believe it’s the start of the end times while others struggle to find ways to live with the inexplicable.

Perrotta read an excerpt on the show:

Something tragic occurred, the experts repeated over and over. It was a Rapture-like phenomenon, but it doesn’t appear to have been the Rapture.

Interestingly, some of the loudest voices making this argument belonged to Christians themselves, who couldn’t help noticing that many of the people who’d disappeared on October 14th — Hindus and Buddhists and Muslims and Jews and atheists and animists and homosexuals and Eskimos and Mormons and Zoroastrians, whatever the heck they were — hadn’t accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior.

As far as anyone could tell, it was a random harvest, and the one thing the Rapture couldn’t be was random. The whole point was to separate the wheat from the chaff, to reward the true believers and put the rest of the world on notice. An indiscriminate Rapture was no Rapture at all.

So it was easy enough to be confused, to throw up your hands and claim that you just didn’t know what was going on. But Laurie knew. Deep in her heart, as soon as it happened, she knew. She’d been left behind. They all had.

It didn’t matter that God hadn’t factored religion into His decision-making. If anything, that just made it worse, more of a personal rejection. …

Perrotta also said:

… to choose the Rapture as your subject matter means that you’re dealing with characters who are grieving for the missing. And the story is the story of an epidemic of grief and loss …

So, yes, I plan on reading this.

In a mostly positive review, Boston Globe critic Matthew Gilbert writes:

Random loss coupled with the anguished people left in its wake — that’s life, right? In The Leftovers, the Sudden Departure and its consequences plays out as a metaphor for the human reality, which is that sudden departures are everyday occurrences.

And the circle is complete. First, Bible passages about death get twisted into the death-denying notion of “the Rapture.” Then the cultural phenomenon of Rapture-mania prompts a book in which the Rapture serves as a metaphor for death.

Two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

That’s either a profound passage about the one certainty that awaits us all, or else it’s an esoteric prophecy reserved only for a select few readers in the Last Days, but utterly irrelevant to the billions of readers who lived and died over the previous 2,000 years.

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