4 reviews

The Leftovers
by Tom Perrotta

Published: 2011-08-30
Kindle Edition : 366 pages
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Recommended to book clubs by 3 of 4 members
A New York Times Notable Book for 2011 A Washington Post Notable Fiction Book for 2011A USA Today 10 Books We Loved Reading in 2011 TitleOne of NPR’s 10 Best Novels of 2011  What if—whoosh, right now, with no explanation—a number of us simply vanished?  Would some of us collapse? ...
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A New York Times Notable Book for 2011
A Washington Post Notable Fiction Book for 2011
A USA Today 10 Books We Loved Reading in 2011 Title
One of NPR’s 10 Best Novels of 2011
What if—whoosh, right now, with no explanation—a number of us simply vanished?  Would some of us collapse? Would others of us go on, one foot in front of the other, as we did before the world turned upside down?

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. 

Kevin Garvey, Mapleton’s new mayor, wants to speed up the healing process, to bring a sense of renewed hope and purpose to his traumatized community. Kevin’s own family has fallen apart in the wake of the disaster: his wife, Laurie, has left to join the Guilty Remnant, a homegrown cult whose members take a vow of silence; his son, Tom, is gone, too, dropping out of college to follow a sketchy prophet named Holy Wayne.  Only Kevin’s teenaged daughter, Jill, remains, and she’s definitely not the sweet “A” student she used to be.  Kevin wants to help her, but he’s distracted by his growing relationship with Nora Durst, a woman who lost her entire family on October 14th and is still reeling from the tragedy, even as she struggles to move beyond it and make a new start.

With heart, intelligence and a rare ability to illuminate the struggles inherent in ordinary lives, Tom Perrotta has written a startling, thought-provoking novel about love, connection and loss.

Editorial Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, August 2011: Author Tom Perrotta is a master at exposing the quiet desperation behind Americaâ??s suburban sheen. In The Leftovers he explores what would happen if The Rapture actually took place and millions of people just disappeared from the earth. How would normal people respond? Perrottaâ??s characters show a variety of coping techniques, including indifference, avoidance, depression, freaking out, and the joining of cults. Despite the exceptional circumstances, itâ??s really not unlike how people respond to more minor incidents in their lives (excepting cults). The result is a novel thatâ??s a slow burn yet strangely compelling, one that leaves the reader pondering the story long after itâ??s over. In vivid and occasionally satiric prose, he takes a bizarre and abnormal event--the Rapture--and imagines how normal people would deal with being left behind. --Chris Schluep


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Discussion Questions

1. Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers focuses on life after a mysterious mass disappearance that may or may not have been the Rapture. How do the various characters feel about being “left behind?” Which character's view of the Sudden Departure makes most sense to you?

2. The Leftovers is set in an idyllic American suburbia—with adult softball teams, a strong school system, and beautiful leafy neighborhoods. Why do you think the author set this novel –and his other novels--in such a place? Is there something especially pleasant or idyllic about the suburbs? Or is that just a myth?

3. Jill Garvey thinks it’s easy “to romanticize the missing, to pretend that they were better than they really were.” Is this true? How do the main characters in The Leftovers view their friends and relatives who have disappeared?

4. How do you feel about Christine’s relationship with Mr. Gilchrist? Is she simply a victim of a predatory, charismatic older man who dupes her into thinking she’s someone special? Or is something more complicated going on between them?

5. Why do you think Laurie Garvey joins the Guilty Remnant? Once there, why do you think she stays? What sort of benefits might a cult-like community offer to people reeling from an event like the Sudden Departure? What about the Healing Hug Movement led by Holy Wayne?

6. What do you think of the teenagers’ sexual interactions in the book? Are they an accurate portrayal of contemporary teenage behavior? To what exent are Jill and her friends reacting to the trauma of the Sudden Departure, if at all?

7. Is Kevin Garvey a good father?

8. How would you describe the relationship between Laurie and Meg? Did you find what happens to them believable? What about the relationship between Kevin and Nora?

9. Like The Road and The Passage and many others, The Leftovers is set in a post-apocalyptic world. Why are we so fascinated by these scenarios? What sets The Leftovers apart from other novels about the end of life as we know it?

10. Perrotta describes some sectors of American society—such as television chefs—being “disproportionately hard hit” by the Sudden Departure. Is there any sector you wish could disappear?

11. What do you think the author’s opinion of religion is? What about spirituality? Are there clues in The Leftovers?

12. Discuss the ending of the book. What do you think happens to the main characters after the book is over?

From the publisher

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub


A Conversation with the Author

Interview conducted by Laura Wilson, Executive Producer, Macmillan Audio

I really enjoyed your book. There’s a lot of humor in it, even though there’s a lot of sadness. What was that like for you as a writer, to sort of find the humor in what’s ultimately a sad situation?

Well, I have to say it was almost the reverse for me. I’d been experimenting in recent years with trying to see just how much I can broaden the idea of the comic novel, and if I could get it to accommodate this idea of a post-apocalyptic scenario.And while there is quite a bit of humor in the book, I ultimately realized that the book was more about grief and loss and sadness.

You don’t expect people to just disappear one day. And yet it was very affecting. The Rapture is obviously a cataclysmic event. But I started realizing it was a metaphor for getting older, for mortality and living with mortality. It’s really powerful. We all basically live in a world that we define by the people who have disappeared. Obviously they haven’t disappeared in some sudden unexplained way, but there’s the sense of living with the absences and with loss and trying to go on in spite of the fact that there are these mysteries that you don’t understand.

One of the great comic [elements] in the book is the idea of being forced to smoke. Were you trying to build in an element of social critique?

I was thinking that if you really do dispense with the idea that you have an indefinite future, and the future is inherently limited, then what would happen? This idea of smoking seemed really interesting to me; it becomes a declaration of faith, that we’re not going to live long enough to get sick from it. It became a kind of ambiguous social critique in that smoking is a very complicated act in our culture, the meaning of which has changed dramatically over recent decades.

I really liked the teenage characters in the book and how their planned futures begin to lose meaning for them. [How] was writing from a teenager’s perspective for you?

I’ve been doing that for quite a long time. My first book, Bad Haircut, was a coming-of- age book, Election was set in a high school, and The Wishbones dealt with young guys in a rock band. What’s different now, of course, is that I’m writing from the perspective of a father who has teenage kids and who no longer necessarily sees the world through the eyes of a kid, but more through the eyes of a parent. There is some element of returning to my roots as a writer, but also of having a whole new perspective.

When you were writing [The Leftovers], were you aware of the prediction of an imminent Rapture?

I wasn’t. I was writing this between 2008 and 2010. (The Rapture was predicted for May or June of 2011.) What I was aware of, of course, was the impending apocalypse of 2012, which is the end of the Mayan calendar. There’s always some apocalyptic scenario we’re living with. My imagination was more rooted in more mundane situations. I remember being very focused on the economic collapse in 2008 and that sense that some people felt, and still feel to some degree, that the structure that we’ve taken for granted all our lives, living in a really powerful, prosperous country where the future is sort of expanding and guaranteed and that our kids will prepare for a world that makes sense. And there was this feeling that this could all go away and we could be living in a very different world ten years down the road. What I wanted to write about was the world where characters no longer felt their futures were guaranteed or predictable or comprehensible. It’s obviously a kind of a magnification to go from economic doubt or despair to a post-apocalyptic scenario. I’m much more interested in that idea of losing faith in the future than I was of sort of critiquing any kind of religious prophet.

Suburban life is a topic you’ve explored in other novels. What do you like about writing about people in a suburban setting?

It never feels like a choice to me; it’s like the default setting of my imagination. I’m from a small suburban town, I grew up that way, and with the exception of a couple years when I lived in Brooklyn, my life has been spent in relatively suburban settings. For me, this idea of a small town as a kind of an understandable social unit is important to me. I think there have been a lot of writers who’ve been experimenting lately with really sprawling novels that will deal with a number of different characters and different points on the globe. I understand that as a method of getting at the global culture that we live in, and I understand writers who want to maybe juxtapose very different historical periods to make some larger points about how things have changed over time. I tend to like the sort of idea of the novel as a little village, and the novel as a microcosm, a smaller world standing in for a larger one.

Are you already at work on your next book? Do you go from book to book, or do you spend some time in between novels deciding what you want to work on?

I usually spend about a year recovering from the effort of finishing the last one, and what I’ll usually do in that year is sometimes write journalism, sometimes short stories. More recently, I’ve been doing some screenwriting. So over the past year I’ve been working on a screenplay for my last book, The Abstinence Teacher, and also I had adapted my novel The Wishbones for a TV pilot, so that’s what’s been keeping me busy. And I have also been working on a collection of short stories.

As a writer who’s had his work made into movies, did it work for you to see your work on screen?

I’ve been very lucky and really happy with the film versions of both Election and Little Children. I think there’s a leap of faith that you take; you’re turning over your creation to these other artists, these writers and actors and directors. I’ve just been extremely lucky to get really talented people doing wonderful things. Sometimes as a writer it’s a little bit humbling. The movie of Election has become a kind of cultural icon that sort of overshadows the book, and you have to live with that. I sort of understand why: Reese Witherspoon’s performance in that movie is, I think, going to survive a long time and really stand out as one of the great comic performances in recent memory. I’ve learned to really love that sort of rolling the dice of collaboration and seeing what happens.

TOM PERROTTA is the author of six works of fiction, including The Wishbones and Joe College. His novels Election and Little Children were made into acclaimed and award-winning movies. He lives outside of Boston, Massachusetts.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "Observations of Reactions"by ebach (see profile) 07/15/17

THE LEFTOVERS is about the lives of people in one small town after millions of people all over the world suddenly disappeared. Many people think it was "the rapture," the belief among some C... (read more)

by jbrookem1 (see profile) 09/15/14

  "So Bad"by sbsalsa (see profile) 07/10/12

I have not been this disappointed in a book in a long time. Don't bother reading it. The rapture (which is almost an afterthought) is used to set the stage for all these relationship/life issues but... (read more)

  "An engaging look at an alternative Rapture"by pegroberts (see profile) 07/02/12

This entertaining and engaging book definitely grew on me as it explored each character's totally unique reaction to the mysterious "Rapturesque" disappearance of family, friends and neighbors. Book clubs... (read more)

  "The Leftovers"by Cornelia38 (see profile) 06/20/12

  "Really!"by yherrera (see profile) 11/17/11

I was very excited to read this book with all the good reviews. I enjoyed getting to know the characters but they didn't go anywhere. The book ends and there are no resolutions to the story, I was very... (read more)

  "The Leftovers"by krystheish (see profile) 09/15/11

Was very interesting, well written, and fun to read. I loved it. It kept me enthralled throughout.

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