Howard McEwen

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Review of Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers

April 5th, 2012 · No Comments

I wish The Leftovers’ narrative was as true as Tom Perrotta’s prose.

He writes in an elegant, simple, straightforward style with only the occasional discordant notes. It’s his prose that pulled me through the novel. It certainly wasn’t the plot.

What is untrue of his narrative?

Let’s start with the central premise. It’s a trick. A set-up. A mere device to set the characters in motion. The Rapture-like nature of the central event is only examined in a cursorily way. Maybe this was done out of fear of having an honest discussion of religion. Maybe not. Either way, the Rapture nature of the loss of so many loved ones could have been a mass murder, a tragic crash of a bus loaded with townsfolks. It’s only used to set off the characters on various paths of healing from a loss. Except when there’s loss people naturally turn to religion – in all of it’s forms. For a meditation on loss, I’d rather turn to Russell Bank’s The Sweet Hereafter.

Even as a plot device, there’s not much examination or explanation of how the world reacts when millions disappear. News reports, government actions, heated debates. Anything even referred to would have helped draw me into this world. Heck, even description of CCTV footage. The event happens in a prologue and then the action picks up three years later. The practical guy in me wanted more.

Then I especially didn’t buy into the ‘trueness’ of some of the characters. A woman leaves her family. While this happens in life. It’s rare and, if happens, drugs are usually present. Or mental illness. Men leave their families, women don’t. Women especially don’t leave teen daughters. However, on the whole the women seemed truer than the fellas.

The men in this novel frustrated me beyond belief because….because…they didn’t act like men. They are inactive pushovers. They bend to whatever circumstances are presented to them without so much as a whimper. Maybe that’s the state of manhood in the 2010s. I just wanted one of them to take action. To kick in a door. To say “enough!” None did. Not even a man who built a successful liquor distributorship and retired early – no easy feat for a milquetoast guy who dreamed of retiring with his wife while working but then lets her abandon the family and wander into a cult across town with only minimal protest.

There were some nice bits in this book. As I stated, the writing is elegant. However, I felt like either punches were pulled or never even thrown. Heck, in a book about a Rapture-like event, the word Jesus was used as a blasphemy and exclamation as much as referencing the religious figure.

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