In the non-naturalistic The Leftovers (2011), Tom Perrotta’s new novel, millions of people have disappeared from the earth in a Rapture-like phenomenon, and a great many were not Christians. It was a “random harvest” and most of Perrotta’s attention is fixed on what has ensued in the U.S. suburbs now that this inexplicable tragedy has occurred. At bottom the Sudden Departure, as it is called, is simply the next bad thing to happen after such events as 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Japanese tsunami, etc.; the novel subtly presents it as such.
A spellbinding fact is that sundry religious cults have arisen, winning such converts as the wife (Laurie) and son (Tom) of Kevin Garvey, the mayor of a town called Mapleton. The cult that has lured in Laurie is the Guilty Remnant, a bizarre religion whose adherents wear white, almost never speak, and routinely smoke cigarettes. Perrotta’s point here may well be this: To slightly alter something G.K. Chesterton said, when people stop believing in the traditional God, they start believing in anything. False gods are ubiquitous, notwithstanding there is in the book a ruined minister, Max Jamison, who does not even turn to a false god. He fails to accept that a non-traditional event like the random (but was it random?) Sudden Departure could have come from the true Deity.
One might suspect The Leftovers of being depressing, but it isn’t. It’s merely serious as well as lively, wry and humane. Though it’s been called satirical, for the most part that isn’t true.
The photo is of Tom Perrotta.