Review of Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers

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.

My Review of Keynes Hayek: The Clash that Defined Modern Economics

A disclaimer up front: I bailed on this book about 20% of the way through. So take this review for what it’s worth.

I should have loved this book but I didn’t. I love economics. I love the debate.

Let’s face it, the material can be esoteric. While I have some economic education I found myself swimming in rough waters at times in this book. The writer didn’t guide us through the various viewpoints so much as clip a paragraph from Keynes then clip another paragraph from Hayek with a counterpoint. The problem with these is that the two economists were writing to and for other economists. It’s not the easiest lingo to understand in 1930 much less after 80 years has passed.

The book started promisingly enough for me. The two economists alone on top of a building at night assigned to watch for German bombers. From my limited knowledge the two men could not have been more different but more alike in many ways. I wish that was explored more. Maybe it was in the final 80% or so but I just couldn’t push through to find out.

Pandora’s Grave by Stephen England – The book I’d take heading into battle

I’m not a military guy. I’ve no interest in military things. I respect them and value what they do. I stand when those who serve or have served parade by and upon meeting them I, to paraphrase Prince Hal, hold my manhood cheap.

But if I was given short notice that I was being tossed into battle to fight forces aligned against my country I’d want to make sure I had Pandora’s Grave loaded onto my Kindle. Re-reading it would give me a sense of what I was about to go up against. There’s is such a profound sense of realism in this novel that I’m agog at the amount of research that must have went into it. We’re accustomed to suspending belief when reading or watching fiction – especially in spy/thriller tales but not once did I feel Stephen England was asking me to. This felt like what those men tasked with covert ops must go through. That’s not only a sign of respect to the soldiers England writes about but a deep sign of respect to the intelligence of his reader.

Other signs of respect to the reader? An original plot that reaches back into history and writing that is direct and vivid with an economy of words that is a reflection on the stoicism of the type of men he writes about.

The sign of a good book for me is one that sticks with you over time. I have a feeling this will be one of them. Whether I’m reading about an archaeological dig in the middle east or another report of another explosion in that region my thoughts will wander back to Pandora’s Grave and the dangers the world faces and the men who silently thwart those dangers time and again.

My Review of Booth Tarkington’s Alice Adams

In the novel the title character is described by the matriarch of a prominent family as pushy.

Mrs. Palmer settled the whole case of Alice carelessly. “A pushing sort of girl,” she said. “A very pushing little person.”

That pushing is the fatal flaw of the Adams family. But it doesn’t reside in Alice’s heart but her mothers. She’s a mother that believes she deserves more and is pushing her family members to get it – whatever that is – for her.

While titled after the daughter I felt as if the novel is about the mother and how her pushing destroyed her family.

She pushes her husband, a kind, appreciative man with no business acumen, into committing a moral if not a legal crime in the launch of a new business. The husband has just recovered from a long unidentifiable sickness and is on the far side of middle age. But his wife pushes.

She pushes her son, a young man just starting in life, against his nature. The son is a bit of a free spirit. His mother pushes him to be what his father wasn’t: a man of business and respectability. Her son just wants to shoot dice and have a good time before the shadow of adult responsibility falls over him.

Then there’s Alice. Much like Willie Loman to Biff she puffs Alice up and constructs grand dreams. She wants Alice to join their town’s high society and not marry some mere trades men. But their family is middle-class at best. It’s a fact felt deeply by both Alice and her mother but they somehow feel themselves entitled to enter the higher society. So they both push.

This pushing leads to deception and repels those that would welcome the Adams just as they are. It destroys the husband’s career. It destroys the son’s prospects. And it destroys a budding romance Alice had with a man who would have loved her just as she was.

Alice, in the end, figures this out. She comes to terms with it and begins the process of earning her way into whatever level she’ll obtain instead of pushing her way into it. Her mother, unfortunately, keeps pushing til the end.