I’ve been a fan of Tom Perrotta’s work ever since I fell in love with Alexander Payne’s 1999 film Election, starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon. I found out that the movie was based on a book, so I sought it out. While the book was in many ways different from the movie, I enjoyed it just the same.
And then in 2006 I was treated to one of my favorite films of the decade, Little Children, starring Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson, which Perrotta co-wrote the screenplay for, based on his 2004 novel. He earned an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, and the novel, which won many Best Books of the Year awards, is just as emotionally charged and surprising as the film.
In 2008 I read and loved his novel The Abstinence Teacher, about a sexual education teacher who clashes with various conservatives, and I knew I wouldn’t miss a single Perrotta title. When I heard the premise of his newest book before picking it up last September, I knew it was going to be something special and especially thought-provoking.
Tom Perrotta’s 2011 novel The Leftovers asks a scary question: What if the Rapture actually happened? What if you woke up one day to find that half of your family and friends have mysteriously vanished? In Tom Perrotta’s ambitious novel, the Rapture occurs on October 14th and erases millions of people from the face of the Earth. The main characters in the novel wake up that day with a wife missing, a child missing, the town mayor and even Jennifer Lopez missing.
In one of the most striking storylines in the novel, the unusually unlucky Nora wakes up that fateful day to find that her husband, her son, and her daughter, have all disappeared without a trace. How is Nora supposed to deal with such a tragedy, especially when her family hasn’t died in a car accident or plane crash, but in astonishingly mysterious circumstances? How is she supposed to go on?
The novel got me thinking about what I would do if I woke up one day to find that my parents and two younger brothers had disappeared. Nora grieves, but she eventually moves on, and even starts dating again. I’m not sure I would be as courageous.
If my family disappeared, I certainly wouldn’t be thinking about dating anytime soon; I would try to find all the extended family I had left and spend far too much time mourning my great loss. I have the tendency to take for granted all the gifts I have right now, namely a happy, healthy family, who all currently live in Reno. I get to see all my family as often as once a week, and the thought of even just one of those family members disappearing forever fills me with immeasurable sadness.
After a few weeks of mourning, I would try to resume normalcy by committing to writing every day, whether it be jotting down thoughts in a journal like this one, or in penning a new manuscript, which would most definitely be infused with sadness. I would try to spend time with friends, the kind who could make me forget, even just for a second, the losses I had suffered, and I would do my best to keep the memory of my family alive, as I continue on a brand new world that, in my eyes, would never be the same.
I have yet to read the rest of the works in Perrotta’s canon, which include Mrs. Fletcher, Joe College, and two short story collections, but I found The Leftovers to be his most ambitious work yet. I find myself finishing a lot of books and then never thinking about them again. I finished The Leftovers months ago and I still can’t stop thinking about not just its memorable characters and storylines, but also the resonant themes.