You probably don’t realize it, but you know Tom Perrotta’s work. He’s not achieved a Stephen King-like status, but its not for lack of trying. His approachable, nuanced and poignant novels have been adapted into witty, smart films starring the likes of Reese Witherspoon and Kate Winslet.
The Leftovers, his novel from 2011, is next in line for an adaptation – this time as a series at HBO. And it makes sense, really, that this book would get the long-form treatment. Perrotta’s created a world unto itself within the pages of the book, and it looks like the show’s creators aren’t being shy about expanding on it.
In Mapleton, everything is as it should be. Until the day it’s not. The day half the population just – poof! – disappears. Around the world. Inexplicably. I admit, I was skeptical how Perrotta would deal with a premise as monumental as this without getting bogged down in its implications.
He manages it by not really addressing it at all. This isn’t the story of how the world deals with the Rapture. It’s not even a story of how an entire town deals with it. It’s a story of how a few select characters – one family, and the lives they intersect with – deal with it.
And therein lies Perrotta’s genius. By drawing focus in on a select group of characters, we’re able to immediately identify with the struggles, questions, uncertainties and anxieties that follow the event. By introducing us the town’s mayor, whose wife leaves to join a mysterious cult that sprung out of a reaction to the event; whose son was supposed to go off to college but instead got caught up in the deception of a false prophet; and whose daughter loses all sense of purpose in high school, rebelling in ways she’d never have dreamed of before – by introducing us to this group in particular, we care.
With humor and sincerity, Perrotta creates a world that all too easily could be ours if we all woke up tomorrow to find every fourth person missing. There’s heartbreak and doubt, and even a murder mystery, the resolution of which on the very last pages of the book is one of the best unveilings I’ve read in ages (way better than Night Film, which was a total let down).
Perrotta’s become a personal favorite (alongside Wally Lamb and Nick Hornby and Ian McEwan and on and on), one whose books I can pick up and be all but certain to enjoy. A smart, multi-layered affair, The Leftovers is worth considering as a summer read this season.