Monday, October 10, 2011

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

Last year, I remember people being all frantic about the end of the world.  I say people, but I mean my silly students.  Teenagers believe just about anything they read online or have sent to them via text message, but absolutely nothing told to them by a semi-intelligent adult in a position of pseudo-authority.  I found myself trying to explain this idea of the so-called Rapture on a few occasions.

A little background on me - I don't believe in any of this stuff.  I think the Bible is a sometimes interesting book and nothing more.  I think most religions were created to keep women "in their place."  So as I try to explain all this to teenagers, I try to be cautious with my choice of words so as not to offend them.  Unlike other teachers who think it's fine to push their political-religious views on others, I try to remain neutral in the eyes of my students.  Not always easy.

I was quite amused though when I said at one point, "The Rapture is the idea that God is going to take his followers up to heaven with him and leave behind those who don't believe in Jesus."  And one of my students says, "Good, those people are annoying."  Oh yeah, these are my kids.

Anyway, this book, The Leftovers, is about a situation in which a Rapture type event happens.  Thousands of people just disappear one night.  The story takes place three years later, as people are still trying to cope with what has happened.  People are furious because they can't understand the random way in which people were selected.  They call it the "Sudden Departure" because it doesn't fit their definition of the Rapture.  People who viewed themselves as devout Christians were left behind while atheists and Muslims and Buddhists were taken.  Families were destroyed as spouses and children vanished. 

But eventually, the people have to go on with whatever is left of their lives.  There's a mother who lost her husband and two small children, teenagers traumatized by having seen their friends vanish in front of them.  There's an angry minister who devotes his life to showing that the people taken didn't deserve to go by publishing a newsletter exposing the sins of those who were taken.  Then there are all the strange cults and organizations that form as a reaction to this event.  The creepy religious group, the Guilty Remnant, that walk around silently, dressed in white, stalking people who are trying to live a normal life.  There's the self-proclaimed prophet who thinks he can absorb pain and has a slew of teenage brides he's trying to impregnate to create the next savior.  There are the barefoot people who simply live for fun. 

Most of all this is about how people cope with extreme tragedy and figure out a way to move on when all they really want to do is give up. 

I liked the book quite a bit.  I found it to be such an interesting concept, and handled in a way that isn't ridiculous or too far fetched.  The characters seem real and, for the most part, likable.  It's a frightening statement about how some people cope with tragedy, there are some horrifying events in here, but also, a statement about how most people pick up the pieces and move on, doing the best they can given the circumstances.

No comments: