Monday, 29 December 2014

The Leftovers by Tom Perotta


I first became aware of the writing of Tom Perotta through The Leftovers show which I liked for its odd premise of a secular rapture. All over the world people of all faiths and none are whisked into non-existence. Between 1 and 3%. simply vanish in the blink of an eye. Nora Durst’s husband and two children are taken while she is in the kitchen getting paper towels to mop up an apple juice spill which has not yet begun to cascade to the floor over the edge of the table. She wipes it up in an empty room and two weeks later comes to herself after a fugue. How can you accept what is unintelligible? As though some humans were a mirage.

The major characters and their relationships in the book are the same as in the show. Wisely, there is no explanation offered for the inexplicable. Attempts to grapple with bafflement takes many forms. It is three years on from what the authorities are calling a sudden departure. Kevin Garvey the Mayor of Mapleton who has been elected from a Hopeful Party platform navigates by niceness. His daughter Jill 17 begins to fail at school and screw around led astray by Aimee her pal. Son Tom dropped out of college and has gotten involved with Holy Wayne a minister who absorbs the grief by hugging the afflicted. His son was taken and he is hopeful that one of his six underage concubines will give birth to a replacement. Opposed to any rapprochement with the event even unto ‘moving on’, are the ‘guilty remnant’ a cult who dress in white and by their silent witness haunt and stalk the populace.

There’s more, much more. It’s a rich Xmas cake and indeed Xmas features in the book as an attempt to make a family holiday of it. Kevin Garvey’s cheery banalities fail to exorcise the haunt by his wife who calls to the house on Xmas day. She is now a member of the G.R.

Tom Perotta doesn’t do fancy prose on principle and this suits the novel. Verisimilitude is rendered by the refusal to engage with the mystery and staying penny plain. The gothic is reduced to the suburban by the accretion of mundane detail and the credible deeps of the plot. One could take the novel as a metaphor for the missing while present ones, the ignorable that generate this version of society as their dream or myth. Suddenly everyone is made to care. It’s as the philosophers say, multiply realisable or something. You’ll be sorry when I’m not here anymore after a fashion but the where I’ll be is uncanny.

It was a good novel. I started it on Xmas Day and finished it yesterday. Its ending, though not I would hope leaving itself open to a sequel, Warmedover, falls where the first season ended. Can they resist the need to explain the Event.

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