It’s a virtual axiom among those who believe in the Rapture– the belief that true Christians will be swept to heaven, leaving sinners behind to face a terrible Tribulation — that they themselves will be among the elect.
What makes Tom Perrotta’s new novel, “The Leftovers,” so facinating is that when it comes, a Rapture-like event is indiscriminate.
Some of the loudest voices rejecting the term Rapture in the novel, Perrotta writes, “belonged to Christians themselves, who couldn’t help noticing that many of the people who had disappeared on Oct. 1 — Hindus and Buddhists and Muslims and Jews and atheists and animists and homosexuals and Eskimos and Mormons and Zoroastrians, whatever the heck they were — hadn’t accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior. … An indiscriminate Rapture was no Rapture at all.”
That makes for a top-notch, novel about those “left behind.” Oddball religious movements crop up, such as the Guilty Remnant, who adopt silence and cigarettes to remind themselves of their (and others’) sins, and the hug-peddling prophet Holy Wayne, who turns out to have a problem with underage girls.
The author gives us the Garvey family as a focal point, though they have not lost anyone to the “sudden departure.” Kevin, mayor of the small town of Mapleton, must keep up a good front when his wife Laurie joins the Guilty Remnant, but he’s terribly lonely. His daughter Jill, who was in the room when a friend was spirited away, battles conflicted feelings and toys with leaving her home. Son Tom tries to protect a young Holy Wayne acolyte made pregnant by the charlatan.
The book is sometimes funny and observant, but in the end, deeply melancholy. Perrotta’s compassion for his characters never sets them up as heroes or villains. In the end, it’s small things, and simple love, that will sustain humanity, whatever happens.