The Leftovers, written by Tom Perrotta, takes a look at how ordinary people react to extraordinary events. While “the Departure” sets the book in motion, the story is really about how people deal with unexplainable events. Should you try to chase down answers and obsess over what you might never know? Or should you try to return to normal, acknowledge something happened, but move on?
The book follows a cast of characters all from the small suburban town, Mapleton, and how each one reacts to an unprecedented tragedy. The main focus is on the Garvey family, made up of the parents Kevin and Laurie along with their daughter in high school, Jill, and college aged son, Tom, all of whom survived the Departure. A completely different perspective is added to the mix with Nora, also a Mapleton native, whose entire family (her husband, daughter, and son) disappeared. Between these five characters there were the extreme reactions: devoting your life to a cult that claims to have the answers. And the less extreme reactions: becoming friends with the wrong crowd or obsessing over SpongeBob Squarepants.
We dove right into the big question: who was disappointed that we never found out what caused the departure? Was it aliens, religion, science?! Our conclusion was that not knowing was integral to the storyline and how we related to the characters and how they managed to live after an extraordinary event. Many of us found hidden meanings within the book. Perhaps the Departure was symbolic of death, and the book was focusing on how we deal with being the ones left behind after our loved ones depart. Or perhaps it is discussing the boredom of the middle class and the need to liven up your too perfect world.
In the end, we agreed that The Leftovers is a great read, but the ending left a little to be desired. With so many emotions running wild, and so many different personalities at play, the book concluded with a surprisingly pleasant ending for most of the characters. It all felt just a little too easy. Plus, it could have used some more sci-fi elements, because really, what book can’t use more sci-fi.
Join us as we read our next book club pick the fantasy novel, The Folk of the Air, by Peter S. Beagle, the author of The Last Unicorn!