Smith Review of The Leftovers

Original Article

I have a short book review of the interesting novel,The Leftovers, in the current First Things.  Here it is for those who might be interested in reading a different kind of post “Rapture” novel. (no link):

No angel’s horn blew. The Risen Christ did not return with a shout. The dead remained in their graves. Instead, in the (sort of) Rapture of Tom Perrotta’s new novel, The Leftovers, millions of people suddenly and randomly evaporated—amusingly including Greta van Susteren—leaving emotional devastation in the wake of their silent and unexplained departure.

It’s a fascinating premise too often overlooked by most Rapture fiction authors who dwell (sometimes gleefully) on the sufferings of unbelievers left to face the Apocalypse. In contrast, the problem for the “leftovers” isn’t the Four Horsemen. It is that life banally goes on—and it is killing them.

How to cope? A tribe of neo hippies discard the “tune in” portion of Timothy Leary’s formula, and just turn on and drop out. “Holy Wayne,” a former UPS delivery man, becomes a world famous cult leader (with clay feet and other body parts) out of his empathetic ability to absorb his followers’ grief. Teenagers hollowly participate in sordid hook up parties. Meanwhile, the main protagonist, the mayor of a small town, strives earnestly to rebuild community normalcy by organizing holiday parades and soft ball leagues.

Perrotta’s most interesting creation is the “Guilty Remnant,” a band of unsmiling neo-monastics, who dress all in white, never speak, chain smoke (a funny bit), and grow increasingly radical to prevent people from forgetting that “God’s judgment is upon us.”

Yes, the book is written in an anti-religion font: Religious reactions to the disappearance become villainous. The town’s foremost pastor obsessively researches the most personal peccadillos of the disappeared to prove their unworthiness of being taken to heaven. In contrast, the book’s most principled character, the aforementioned mayor, loses his faith and shines.

But the bashing is desultory. At its heart, The Leftovers is about the struggle to recover from irremediable loss. Most of his characters simply can’t. But a few manage to love. Perrotta is saying that even in the direst circumstances, love remains a fount of hope. When all else fails, love is the pathway home.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.