Book – The Leftovers

art © 2014 HBO/St. Martin’s Griffin

There’s a lot of speculative fiction out there about the end of the world.  I suppose it’s because we’re reaching a time in history that is numerically significant, and also feels different changes are being made in society as such a rapid fire pace, that it’s hard not to feel like things will go boom somehow.  It’s just a matter of what will happen and why.  Is it zombies?  A massive plague?  Nuclear war?  Aliens?  A robot uprising?  The book I finished last week was indeed speculating about the “end of the world”, but it’s a little different.  What if the rapture happens (as described in the bible), but then the rest of us just go on living our lives?

So first off, a little theology – the rapture is meant to be this time when God’s chosen are swept up and brought to God’s presence immediately.  In popular culture it’s been depicted a few times in a few different ways, mostly because it’s a visually fascinating thing – people removed from the society in which they are living without warning.  If you didn’t read the Left Behind books or see it’s movies (don’t worry – I didn’t either), perhaps you remember the rapture scenes from the movie This Is The End (warning: NSFW, and with a slightly creepy end of times dude who is sharing/narrating it).  It tends to be a little judgmental and creepy as a theology – there are people out there who truly believe that one day they will just be swept up into heaven in the course of normal events.  Driving, shopping, etc.  If you’ve ever driven around in the small town South, you may have seen bumper stickers from “true believers”.

But like I said above – this book is not about what happened to the people who are taken.  It’s about the people who weren’t – as the title implies: the leftovers.  What would happen to us?  And the book lays it out.  Things would be pretty messed up for a while.  We would gather close to those who were also left and grieve terribly.  We would ask ourselves – why them?  Why not me?  And at some point, we would begin to go on with our lives.  You see it every time there’s a national tragedy somewhere.  After 9/11 we were all shocked for days, weeks…sometimes months or years.  But eventually we all began to move on.

And that’s what happens in this book too, but because it’s such a specific and permanent occurrence that affects everyone across the world and the country, odd things begin to happen.  Religiosity  increases in hopes of a second rapture, and the possibility of being reunited with those who were lost.  Cults and other semi-religious organizations spring up to help people cope with what’s happening in the world.  And at the same time, another sector believes that the world will truly end in less than a decade, and so decides to fully enjoy their lives without repercussions for long-term health and wellbeing – if you’re not going to live another 10 years, why not enjoy the things that take longer to mess your body up?

It’s an interesting book.  It gives you a lot to think about too, but at the same time, it feels so open-ended.  In fact, the end of the book feels unfinished.  There are so many questions about what could possibly happen to the characters that it feels wrong to stop the story and not let us know what happens next.  So many new storylines get set up at the end of the book, and as far as I know – there’s no sequel, and none planned.  There is a television show that airs on HBO – there have been two seasons so far, and it’s getting a third and final season in 2017.  Now that I’ve read the book, I’ll likely go back and watch the series when I have time.  HAHAHA.  Just kidding, I may never end up seeing it because I don’t have time.  Not really.  But it’s nice to have a plan that I can get to as long as the rapture doesn’t take me before I can accomplish it.  😉

Ok – who’s read the Leftovers?  Or seen the show?  What did you think?  Or is anyone out there just as weirded out by depictions of rapture in popular culture the way that I am?  And here – enjoy this trailer from season 1 of the show!

Details: The Leftovers, by Tom Perotta.  First published 2011 by St. Martin’s Press.

2 Comment

  1. Nicole Holstein says: Reply

    Gosh, that concept has so much baggage! haha
    Coming from a suuuuuper conservative and literalist church background, I am VERY familiar with the Rapture narrative, as it is told in the Bible and in popular culture. For many years, I was surrounded by people who believed everything in Revelations will happen, word-perfect as it is described. That means, many-headed dragons literally walking the Earth, Angels in the 4 Corners of the World, plagues, torture, and the coming of the Anti-Christ. I immediately go to such a dark place when this topic is brought up because it just brings back that feeling of being surrounded by horribly people who were convinced of their own righteousness and who prayed daily for the coming of the Rapture so they could leave this hellish, fallen world, and who very, very seriously believed it would happen any day. How many sermons and impromptu prayers did I hear that contained some version of “Are you ready? It could happen right this very minute! Do you want to be left behind??!” These same people bought the Left Behind series for all their kids, and I think I read the first one. It was a compelling story, actually, but that was because it was terrifying. The goal of the books is basically to scare kids into being “good Christians” because after the Rapture, your chances of redemption are slim to none, and you’ll have to be beheaded by the anti-christ or one of his followers to earn a place.

    On a separate note, as I learned in my Bible as Literature class that I took in college, and as you mentioned, Apocalyptic stories tend to be written by societies going through some kind of cultural upheaval, and the Book of Revelations was definitely written by a people who were experiencing a sense of loss of cultural identity, with large influxes of immigrants into their society and significant wars/regime changes all happening at once.
    (Sound familiar?)
    I will pull out my notes on this topic when I get home and see if I can recall anything else interesting.

    1. maggie says: Reply

      The idea of rapture has a lot of baggage, but this book seems to avoid a LOT of that, just because the rapture – while it happens in practice as described – doesn’t necessarily take the people who the Rapture stories tell us will be taken. It’s not necessarily the “best” and most devout. Which is what makes it a fascinating read.

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