In my last post I talked a bit about how hard it can be to find books that have elements of fantasy of science fiction, but are not cheesy genre fiction. By all accounts, Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers should be exactly my kind of book. Perrotta is a well-respected literary author probably most famous for Little Children, which was made into a move with Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson. (Topic for another day: while I liked Little Children, as far as I can tell, the only reason it wasn’t classified as chick lit is that it was written by a man. Had the author been named Tara Perrotta, I bet you money that thing would have had a pink cover. Possibly featuring shoes.) In The Leftovers, Perrotta is still focused on normal, middle American families, but he’s put a slightly supernatural spin on this time. Several years before the events of the book take place, a significant number of the earth’s population disappeared—vanished in an instant. While many people assume this was the Rapture, plenty of non-Christians disappeared as well, and nothing has happened since that day to provide any additional information.
It’s an intriguing concept and I was interested in reading a book that deals with a Rapture-like event without being overbearingly religious (in other words, not the Left Behind books). And the book does an excellent job of portraying what might really happen in this situation. Some people assume the world is ending and turn to religious cults, some lose their faith entirely, and some do their best to move forward and not think about it too much. (I would definitely be in that last category.)
But the thing is, this book really isn’t about the disappearance. It’s about normal, middle-class American families in a small town: people get together, people break up, a teenager makes a friend who might not be a good influence. Okay, there is a very creepy Doomsday cult involved, but even that comes off less as science fiction and more like a plot line about someone joining a strict new church. And the characters, even the ones in the cult, don’t even discuss the disappearance much at all. The Rapture wasn’t even necessary—using another significant disaster or trauma wouldn’t have caused that many changes in the book.
Perrotta is known for his detailed descriptions of emotional turmoil under the surface of normal life, and the book definitely does that well. I would have no issues recommending the book to someone like my sister, who hates science fiction books and doesn’t read them at all. But for me, there was a lot less supernatural excitement than I was expecting or hoping for. On the continuum of realistic to fantastical, The Leftovers falls too much on the everyday-life side of things for me.