The Leftovers (2011)

“The Leftovers” is a captivating rumination on how, at both an individual and societal level, humans react to loss and the unknowable.

The mass disappearance of 2% of the world’s population is the central event the novel revolves around, but instead of taking a more science-fiction approach and exploring the cause and purpose of the event, author Tom Perrotta firmly breezes by any of the mystery of the disappearance, and dives into solely exploring how people try to cope in the aftermath of such devastating loss.

Perrotta has a keen, observed handle on human psychology, and all his principal characters feel like three-dimensional, realised people. While in some ways the book left me feeling hollow, it’s not a hollow book in the slightest, as Perrotta’s observations on the way people cope (or don’t) with loss and the unknowable aspects of life are often depressingly real and relatable. Rapture aside, his exploration of both a world, families, and individuals all to defined by absences rather than presences feels earnest and true.

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Perrotta’s sharp comic touches don’t enliven his world’s depressing reality to any jarring extent, and his voice feels empathetic above all else, especially any kind of didacticism, which he perhaps wisely avoids. “The Leftovers” doesn’t offer any easy answers, but the questions it asks are shaded in such great depth that it doesn’t need to. I give it four cigarettes, and a Spongebob DVD.

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