The Leftovers by Tom Perrota
That’s what the bewildered citizens of Mapleton, who lost many of their neighbors, friends and lovers in the event known as the Sudden Departure, have to figure out. Because nothing has been the same since it happened—not marriages, not friendships, not even the relationships between parents and children.
I was excited to read this book even before it came out. And now I’ve done it. I was pretty certain I would love it before. But it was while reading it that I realized it’s kind of speaking to where I am in my life right now.
This is a book about people trying to find their way in a world that doesn’t make sense anymore. And that’s where I am. In a world that doesn’t make sense to me anymore. The characters of the novel, told in shifting perspective from the four members of the Garvey family (Kevin, the dad, Laurie, the mother, Jill, the daughter, Tom, the son) and Nora Durst, are angry and sad and bitter and confused and lonely and just plain unhappy. And those are exactly all the emotions I’m feeling.
Now that I’ve accounted for my slightly biased opinion, I can move on to why this was such an excellent read. Beyond that the book spoke to me, which is kind of what books are supposed to do anyway, right? Provided a method of escapism that simultaneously provides a measure of identification and comfort.
The Leftovers unfolds linearly and then it doesn’t. There isn’t a clear forward moving plot. We move forward in time, months pass, things happen (including the length of a pregnancy), but there’s no real driving problem that is being solved, nothing that the characters are attempting to accomplish, that they’re being inexorably drawn to. But it fits. These are characters whose lives have no direction anymore, who are just moving aimlessly in tangents, trying to find where they belong in a world that looks the same, but isn’t. There’s plot structure in terms of the individual character’s arcs, but there isn’t any earth-shattering conclusions or revelations to mark the overarching narrative (well, there’s one. But I kind of honestly didn’t care and I don’t know that we were even supposed to care). This is a tame spoiler, but a spoiler nonetheless: they each achieve something that approximates peace. And let me draw an arrow right here to illustrate the metaphor of this novel and its relation to my life (promise, I’m done).
So maybe the Rapture isn’t going to happen in our lifetime. Maybe it’s not even real. Maybe the Mayans are gonna wipe us out on December 21st, 2012 (look at that folks we might be celebrating the last New Year we’ll ever see!). Maybe we’re gonna keep keeping on for another billion or so years until the sun explodes or something. Whatever. Our lives gets destroyed by things big and small, directly and indirectly. Maybe it’s not as showy as the disappearance of millions or a big flaming fireball, but when things gets broken beyond repair, it doesn’t matter whether it’s just your pain or the pain of the whole world. Suddenly, you have to rebuild your life, knowing that however many days or weeks or months or years of your life had the mark of untruth upon them, thought you never knew it as you were passing through. That is the real message of The Leftovers: how to be happy when it seems like you can’t possibly ever be happy again.
And lest you think I’m waxing too poetic, I’m going to close with a pop culture reference and a video. Like Rihanna says, we can find love in a hopeless place.