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AUGUST 29, 2011 10:54PM

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

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Stephen King, in his NY Times article, “The Eerie Aftermath of a Mass Exit” places Tom Perrotta’s new novel The Leftovers (2011) among the apocalyptic fiction. On the wake of the recent Harold Camping broadcasts King, contextualizes the novel as a satire of the postmodern religiosity. There have been many novels published on the theme of apocalypse, with the Left Behind series giving it a mass appeal.

 Perrotta’s novel revolves around the Garvey family—Kevin, Laurie and their two children, Tom and Jill. The novel explores the emotional and social existence of a community after the mass disappearance. Whereas, Left Behind, by Tim Lahaye and Jerry B. Jenkins deals head on with the disappearance phenomenon. The characters in both these novels are aghast in the inexplicable phenomenon and locate themselves lost and confused. In Left Behind, this confusion is resolved in arguing the reason of the phenomenon as a divine interference, which the Bible identifies as the rapture. Though The Leftovers too locates the cause of the disappearances in the same area, it does it with a stringent social obligation. And it is this social obligation of the book that helps us to read it as a satire of the contemporary certainty over issues that constantly evade human comprehension or control.

 This certainty is nothing else but the visible traits of violence and extremism that surface quite often as a quintessential remedy for many a problems faced by the contemporary society, when the solution could be sought through dialogues and intellectual interaction. Stephen Kind locates Perrotta’s concerns as a suggestion towards such extremism “that in times of real trouble,”…“trumps logic and dialogue becomes meaningless.” He calls this diagnosis “chillingly accurate” when juxtaposed with the September 11 attacks on World Trade Centre in the year 2001.  

 Left Behind series looks up at the centers of power as the potential sources of further evil, where Nicolae Carpathia, the President of Romania represents the Antichrist. The Leftovers instead, looks directly into a society and attempts to analyze the social behavior of individual subjects. Whatever the literary merits of these two works are, and even if both of these works would stand apart divided by the barrier of literature and bestseller, their attempts to pose an issue with symbolic and socio-religious influence, are equally remarkable. Probably, the attempt in the Left Behind is more significant as it questions the role of politicians in the events that evade layman’s logic in the contemporary world. And by enveloping this idea with the religious signifier of Antichrist, it becomes more suggestive as well.    

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