three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
55-Nov-Dec-2011
By: 
Tom Perrotta
user_rating: 
0

A-The LeftoversTom Perrotta, best known for his suburban social satires, now turns his eye to a postapocalyptic world. Reviewed: Little Children ( 3.5 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2004) and The Abstinence Teacher ( 3 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2008).

The Story: After the "Sudden Departure"--an unexplained and indiscriminate Rapture--millions of people around the world, true believers and nonbelievers alike, are forever whisked away by God or some otherwise cataclysmic being. In the middle American town of Mapleton, the Garvey family (none of whom were taken) try to recover some normalcy as they slog through daily life and deal with being left behind. Kevin, the mayor, tries to rescue his community as his wife leaves to join the Guilty Remnant and his children simultaneously suffer typical teenage angst and stray into dangerous survivor cults. But life goes on, as desperate post-Departure as it was before.
St. Martin's Press. 368 pages. $25.99. ISBN: 9780312358341

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"It's a mark of the novelist's skill and acute observation that the people are always much more interesting than the eschatological events surrounding them (including the disappearances of ‘John Mellencamp and J. Lo, Shaq and Adam Sandler, Miss Texas and Greta Van Susteren, Vladimir Putin and the pope'). ... With Perrotta at the controls, you buy the set-up and sit back as he takes off and explores these humans in very human terms." John Barron

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"The Leftovers is, simply put, the best Twilight Zone episode you never saw--not The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street but The Monsters Are Us in Mapleton. ... There is Perrotta's beautifully modulated narration to admire, too." Stephen King

Boston Globe 3 of 5 Stars
"The critical action--the climax, to some extent--occurred before the novel begins, so the narrative occasionally feels static in its wake. At the same time, what I like about The Leftovers--which Perrotta is adapting as a series for HBO--is that it never comes off as just another drastic apocalyptic vision." Matthew Gilbert

Onion AV Club 3 of 5 Stars
"Subtlety is Perrotta's watchword as he studies and classifies the minute details that make the town of Mapleton so damaged in the weeks after the unexplained event, and its role in the wider search for explanation. ... Never out-and-out spooky, The Leftovers embodies what might be Camping's worst fear for America--that it would continue on, albeit haltingly, reconstructing its broken structures." Ellen Wernecke

Minneapolis Star Tribune 2 of 5 Stars
"[It] was difficult to understand what motivated his characters to make the choices they did. There was an emptiness to their actions that could not be attributed to the Sudden Departure or the grieving process, so that in one pivotal scene between Laurie Garvey and her fellow Watcher, Meg, it feels as though the reader is encouraged to find emotion where there is none." Meganne Fabrega

New York Times 2 of 5 Stars
"This all makes for a splashy Hollywood-like premise, but Mr. Perrotta , whose earlier novels Election and Little Children were deftly adapted for the screen, has trouble reconciling this high concept platform with his talent for smaller-scale portraits of awkward adolescents and angst-ridden suburban families. The result is a poignant but deeply flawed novel." Michiko Kakutani

Wall Street Journal 1 of 5 Stars
"It should be said immediately that The Leftovers is bereft of anything like humor, and scenes with comic potential soon adopt the earnestness of soap opera. ... Is there not something about human erasure that merits serious thought? Since none is forthcoming, The Leftovers becomes ever more implausible and boring." Alexander Theroux

Critical Summary

A few critics noted that The Leftovers marks something of a departure for Tom Perrotta; instead of social satire, it is "a gentle, Perrotta-esque go at sci-fi, without any mangled bodies or bombed-out buildings; it's a realistic novel built on a supernatural foundation" (Boston Globe). Still, as in previous novels, Perrotta casts a sharp, microcosmic eye on a suburban family--but with mixed results. While some reviewers praised Perrotta's graceful prose and insight into family dynamics, a few lambasted his far-fetched premise, dull characters, emotionless core, and lack of tension (after all, the main action happens before the story starts). But for readers interested in a literary metaphor for our splintered American society, "it's a chillingly accurate diagnosis" (New York Times Book Review).