“The Leftovers” paints a visceral picture of the world, post-tragedy

In the spring of 2011, a man named Harold Camping made national news by predicting the exact date of the rapture: May 21, 2011. Camping was an evangelical preacher who taught that on May 21, the righteous would be raised to heaven while the sinners would suffer up to a year of disease and war. Clearly, he was wrong because we are all still here. Later that year, writer Tom Perrotta released a novel undoubtedly inspired by Camping’s teachings. In Perrotta’s The Leftovers, a third of the world’s inhabitants mysteriously disappear, seemingly evaporated into thin air, in what could only be described as the rapture. However, what is so mystifying about this event, nicknamed the “Sudden Departure,” is that not one single religious group disappears. Instead, both criminals and saints alike are among “The Departed,” leaving people to question whether this event really was rapture.

The Leftovers doesn’t ever answer what really happened. The book takes place three years after the Sudden Departure. It follows each member of the Garvey family, all of whom live in the small town of Mapleton and have vastly different ways of reacting to the event.

Kevin Garvey is the patriarch of the family and of the town, serving as mayor of Mapleton. His wife, Laurie, joins a cult called the Guilty Remnant. Each member of this cult, masquerading as a religious group, has to wear all white, constantly smoke a cigarette and take a vow of silence. Not even when a member is alone is he or she allowed to speak. Traveling in pairs, the Guilty Remnant spend their time stalking non-members from a distance and staring at them, simply to get a reaction. Their ultimate goal is to recruit new members and wait for the apocalypse.

The Guilty Remnant is not the only cult to form after the Sudden Departure. The older of the two Garvey children, a college dropout named Tom, follows a self-proclaimed prophet called Holy Wayne. Wayne claims to have a direct line of communication with God, who instructed him to practice polygamy by taking multiple child brides. According to Wayne, the son of God will come to Earth through one of his wives.

Jill, the other Garvey child, has the hardest time dealing with the Sudden Departure because both her mother and her brother left her at an impressionable age. During high school, Jill turns to drugs and heavy drinking to cope with the loss of friends and family.

Although what happened in Perrotta’s novel is like something out of a “Twilight Zone” episode, it’s easy to get lost in the world Perrotta has created. Each character possesses a depth that makes the reader sympathize with even the most detestable characters.

In The Leftovers, Perrotta examines how both individuals and the world as a whole react to loss, especially in the face of an event that raises so many questions. His novel is less about the weird cults and crazy people that take the stage after a tragedy and more about both the direct and indirect ways tragedy can affect people. Perrotta argues that one still feels a sense of loss after a major disaster, no matter how many loved ones he or she lost.

Perrotta’s novel explores the devastation that follows a tragic event and the beauty that emerges from it as good people come forward to help others. Despite the seemingly bleak premise, Perrotta delivers an inspiring piece of writing in The Leftovers.

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