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Christian

The Leftovers

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Let's launch a thread on this book, which looks like it'll be worth discussing when it's released.

"The Leftovers," by literary novelist Tom Perrotta, takes place in the near future, after millions of people evaporate in a Rapture-like mass disappearance. ...

Mr. Perrotta, author of such literary dramas as "The Abstinence Teacher" and "Little Children," says he struggled with the tone of his forthcoming apocalyptic novel. "The Leftovers" centers on a family torn apart in the aftermath of the "Sudden Departure," a Rapture-like event. Doomsday cults proliferate and TV stations run tributes to missing celebrities. Glints of dark humor lighten the drumbeat of dread: "According to the Food Network, the small world of superstar chefs had been disproportionately hard-hit," Mr. Perrotta writes.

"I thought I could write a comic novel about the apocalypse, but I quickly realized it would be a book about grief," Mr. Perrotta says.

St. Martin's Press will release the book in August, with a 300,000 first printing—50% more than his last print run.

"There's a literary fiction audience that I already reach," Mr. Perrotta says. "There's a slightly different audience that likes high concept fiction that has futuristic dystopian elements. Maybe it will even get out to some of those readers, or younger readers."

Edited by Christian

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Mr. Perrotta is an interesting writer. I've found him engaging some of the time and a little cliche-ridden some of the time. "Rapture Novels" are something of a dead horse these days. There has got to be someone out there somewhere who could make a rapture story interesting, but it's hard for me to imagine how.

The term "literary novelist" or "literary fiction" is also a term I wonder about these days. I used to think it meant that the author was highly educated, well read, and very polished with his prose. I'm afraid it might mean today that the author can just be found in the general "Literature" section of the bookstore instead of the Harlequin or Science-Fiction sections.

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The term "literary novelist" or "literary fiction" is also a term I wonder about these days. I used to think it meant that the author was highly educated, well read, and very polished with his prose. I'm afraid it might mean today that the author can just be found in the general "Literature" section of the bookstore instead of the Harlequin or Science-Fiction sections.

Well, the practice of dividing books by genre is driven mostly by commercial interests. Lots of books could go in more than one section: James Lee Burke writes series novels, but from what I can tell he's pretty solidly "literary" if by that you mean "fine writing"; I know some here don't like Dune, but I would hold it against any "literary" writer; Faulkner wrote several (pretty good) detective stories and one pulp-noir-thriller; and that's not getting into Michael Chabon, whose output seems to be almost entirely experiments in this-that-or-the-other genre.

All that to the side, the question of what "literature" is has always been a vexed one. As Eagleton points out in Literary Criticism (book not to hand, so can't cite specifics), "Literature" just means "a collection of works we've decided is worth studying." The contents of that collection aren't concrete; authors enter and leave the canon all the time (Dickens wasn't seriously studied until Chesterton; meanwhile, Thomas Wolfe seems to have made a silent departure from general esteem).

Hmm. And here I've not even read Perrotta. I suppose I'll have to remedy that in future.

Edited by NBooth

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Kakutani review:

Although the Sudden Departure is described as “a Rapturelike phenomenon,” Mr. Perrotta writes in “The Leftovers,” some people argue that it appears to have been “a random harvest”: “Interestingly, some of the loudest voices making this argument belonged to Christians themselves, who couldn’t help noticing that many of the people who’d disappeared on October 14th — 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.”

Among the celebrities who have disappeared, we’re told, are John Mellencamp, Jennifer Lopez, Shaq, Adam Sandler, Miss Texas, Greta Van Susteren, Vladimir Putin and the Pope.

This all makes for a splashy Hollywood-like premise, but Mr. Perrotta , whose earlier novels “Election” and “Little Children” were deftly adapted for the screen, has trouble reconciling this high concept platform with his talent for smaller-scale portraits of awkward adolescents and angst-ridden suburban families. The result is a poignant but deeply flawed novel.

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Stephen King also reviewed the novel for the New York Times. How many times has that happened, that a high-profile author reviews a novel in the Times after its lead reviewer has already published her review?

And Ron Charles reviewed the novel in the Washington Post.

Edited by Christian

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Just finished this and feel vaguely disappointed. It's fine storytelling -- maybe a few too many characters, but they're diverse and well drawn enough. I suppose I wanted more religion -- true religion, if you will. Sure, the premise suggests that the very notion of "true religion" would be up in the air to some extent, and Perotta addresses that early in the novel. But, without citing chapter and verse here (I listened to the audiobook and have nothing to page through, even if I wanted to), the book never grapples with Christianity beyond raising a few questions about the nature/extent of the Rapture, and a few ugly characters who get uglier after they've been "left behind," insisting that the true Rapture must not have happened.

There are cult-like groups that some of the characters join and interact with, but I never got the sense of what might be considered "orthodox" Christian belief after the event. I'm not sure that was Perotta's point, but I wanted some deeper examination of the question. What I got instead was a collection of mostly decent people trying to find a way forward after a traumatic event. It's not bad -- not at all. But I don't think I'm going to take away much from The Leftovers.

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