Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Buddy Read/Review of The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

I was recently given the opportunity to participate in a Buddy Read/Review with Carrie from Books and Movies! This is my first Buddy Read and I have had a great time working with Carrie on this. For our Buddy Read, we read  Tom Perrotta's new novel The Leftovers which was released on August 30th.  I had been wanting to read this novel from the moment that I'd heard about it because the concept sounded like something right up my alley! By the way, be on the lookout for a full review of the novel later this weekend!

As part of the Buddy Read/Review, Carrie and I each read the book and then sent one another a few questions about the book. Today we're both going to be posting our responses to the questions sent by the other person. Be sure to visit Carrie at Books & Movies to see her responses to the questions that I sent her. My answers to her questions are below, just after the book synopsis ... I'd love to hear what YOU thought about this book so please post in the comments of this post so that Carrie and I can continue the conversation with all of you!

Synopsis - (from the publisher's website)

What if—whoosh, right now, with no explanation—a number of us simply vanished?  Would some of us collapse? Would others of us go on, one foot in front of the other, as we did before the world turned upside down?  That’s what the bewildered citizens of Mapleton, who lost many of their neighbors, friends and lovers in the event known as the Sudden Departure, have to figure out. Because nothing has been the same since it happened—not marriages, not friendships, not even the relationships between parents and children. 

Kevin Garvey, Mapleton’s new mayor, wants to speed up the healing process, to bring a sense of renewed hope and purpose to his traumatized community. Kevin’s own family has fallen apart in the wake of the disaster: his wife, Laurie, has left to join the Guilty Remnant, a homegrown cult whose members take a vow of silence; his son, Tom, is gone, too, dropping out of college to follow a sketchy prophet named Holy Wayne.  Only Kevin’s teenaged daughter, Jill, remains, and she’s definitely not the sweet “A” student she used to be.  Kevin wants to help her, but he’s distracted by his growing relationship with Nora Durst, a woman who lost her entire family on October 14th and is still reeling from the tragedy, even as she struggles to move beyond it and make a new start.

With heart, intelligence and a rare ability to illuminate the struggles inherent in ordinary lives, Tom Perrotta has written a startling, thought-provoking novel about love, connection and loss.

Questions and Responses -

1.  Perrotta makes an interesting choice to not explain the Great Disappearance, and to keep the novel character-focused. What did you think of this? Did it bother you not knowing what the GD was?

All in all,  I really liked the fact that Perrotta didn't explain what really happened. It kept the novel focused on the aftermath which I think is a unique perspective. It would be so easy for someone to focus on the actual events but I think the more challenging perspective is the aftermath.  However, I will admit that there was a small part of me that, although acknowledging the good reasons for keeping things vague, REALLY wanted to know what his take of the actual events would have been!

2.  The book follows the stories of several characters after the GD. Which one was your favorite character? Why? Which was your least favorite and why?

I think my favorite character was Jill. She really jumped off the page for me and her journey was very relate able and interesting to me! I think her vulnerability combined with her adolescent ambiguity really spoke to me. I don't typically think about a book or a character after I close the cover of a book but I did find myself thinking back to Jill a few times since finishing the book. Something about her struck a chord with me.

I found Laurie to be the most disappointing character so I think she is my least favorite.  I didn't dislike her but I also didn't find her to be at all genuine. The character almost felt more like a plot device than a well rounded person. I still struggle with making sense of some of her choices, given what we know about her situation at the start of the book. And my reaction to her character got worse over the course of the book. I suspect that much of my reaction to the character was the result of deliberate decisions that Perrotta made in order to help explore the world of extremism.

I feel that I also have to mention Matt Jamison because he was a VERY close second to Laurie in terms of being my least favorite. His inability to believe he could possibly be left behind and his decision to call attention to all of the indiscretions of those who disappeared made him very unlikeable to me. I do understand the role he played in exploring the aftermath of the GD but I found myself reacting very negatively to him each time he popped up in the plot.

3.  What did you think of the theme of religion in the book?

The primary reason that I was interested in reading this book is to see what the fiction brought to light about faith and belief, particularly as it relates to religion. I appreciated how Perrotta explored these themes in the novel. Although I will say that I got a sense of where he fell in the 'believe or don't believe' camp, I don't think he shoved his personal beliefs down the readers throat which I appreciated. I found that a lot of the issues of belief and faith explored in the book did lean towards the side of stating that there are great perils in relying on outside structures for meaning in life (religious, political or otherwise). This is a sentiment that aligns closely with my own beliefs so perhaps that is why I was comfortable with the material and the leanings of the themes being explored.

I felt like there was a lot of material in the novel that really gave the reader the opportunity to explore belief and faith in new and different ways. I found myself once again thinking through my own personal beliefs as a result of the themes of this novel. Faith can be a very polarizing issue so I liked how Perrotta handles religion and its exploration in the novel. I will say that, by the end of the novel, much of my personal beliefs about faith were reinforced as a result of thinking that I did while reading the novel.

I am interested to see how someone who is a devout believer in a particular religion might feel about this book and its themes.  In my opinion, that would be a very interesting perspective to hear.

4.  There was such a huge variety of responses to the GD. I was especially intrigued by how Laurie, who hadn't lost anyone in her immediate family, had such an extreme reaction, changing her whole lifestyle, leaving her family. Did her reaction make sense to you?

Her reaction completely befuddled me. I just could not understand her decisions in the aftermath. They felt 'wrong' to me after all of the background that Perrotta offers about Laurie early in the novel. I'm assuming he was using her as a tool to show the potential extremism that can occur in the aftermath of a life changing event. And I guess, if that is the case, then she is exactly that. But, given the level of extremism she demonstrated in the novel (particularly in the latter sections of the novel), I was more irritated with her and her choices than anything. Despite my visceral reaction to her and her choices, I did like how Laurie's journey in the novel demonstrated so clearly how extremist groups can damage and heal people simultaneously as well as how easily good intention can morph into evil.

5.  This is my first book by the author. Have you read anything else by Tom Perrotta? If so, how did it compare to this one?

This is my first Tom Perrotta book as well. I've seen movies based on his books but I've never read anything by him. I really enjoyed this one so I have already picked up another of his novels The Abstinence Teacher, which I'm looking forward to reading. I like his mix of satire and insightful poignancy.

Okay, so there are my responses to Carrie's questions ... please tell us what you think about these questions (or anything else about the book) in the comments section! Looking forward to hearing what everyone thinks! Thanks and happy reading!


  1. Okay, now I feel like a complete fool - I did read The Abstinence Teacher - I just didn't connect that it was the same author as this one! I really enjoyed that one, too -and again, he explored issues of faith in a respectful way. I am a person with a strong faith, so I always appreciate it when I find an author who doesn't resort to stereotypes, but actually explores the issues regardless of his own belief system.

    Sounds like we both had problems with the character of Laurie - I really hated how her story ended - up until the last possible minute, I thought she would come to her senses.

  2. Yes, I felt the exact same way about Laurie ... I was sure that she'd do the right thing right until the moment that she didn't. I was so disappointed in her.

    It is nice to hear that you felt that he was respectful in his exploration of faith, particularly given your own beliefs. Sometimes I worry that my own questioning about faith colors my views on things like this. I have really appreciated reading about your perspective!