The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta, St. Martin's Press, June 2011
I thought I’d review these two dystopic/apocalyptic novels together because they explore similar themes. In Miracles a young girl comes of age in a world that is slowly changing and perhaps ending as the earth’s rotation slows. In Leftovers a young man, previously something of a slacker, matures as a significant portion of the population disappears from the earth.
Leftovers is written almost as a social satire. The characters are colorful and somewhat exaggerated. The story starts five years after ‘The Rapture’. On one day over twenty per cent of the earth's population has disappeared. Every race, religion and age group are represented in the losses. Kevin Garvey is the mayor now and is trying to bring normalcy to a highly unusual situation. Everyone has had family and friends disappear. His wife has joined a new cult that vows silence, smokes constantly and looks to serve as a living reminder of god’s judgment. His daughter has morphed from a normal high achieving high school student to a troubled rebellious teenager; his son Tom has left college to follow a fraudulent “prophet” Holy Wayne and his new girlfriend has lost all of her family in the disappearance. Each of these characters provides fodder for the author to explore different responses to events and chart character transformations. Unfortunately for me many of the characters including Kevin, lacked emotion in their response to events. When characters are impassive I tend to care a whole lot less about what happens to them. This story started very well, with an interesting premise and it contained some humorous sections but in the end it fell short I think because the author could not decide whether it was a character based story or a satire. Not satisfying!
Miracles is really a coming of age novel that is set during an apocalyptic time. Julia is an eleven year old suburban girl when the story opens. The earth’s rotation is slowing and the days are lengthening. The author does an excellent job of describing through Julia’s eyes the impacts of this slowing. The sense of impending doom is supported with all of the detail provided. The ocean’s whales die (very movingly), the trees die, crops fail, birds fall from the sky, the electric grid falters and some people develop a strange sickness. The adults in the story while considerably unnerved try to provide a ‘normal’ life for Julia. Despite all of this life goes on, Julia’s teenage years are centered on Seth Moreno a neighborhood boy she likes. Her parents’ marriage totters but in the end stands. Her grandfather disappears. Seth becomes her boyfriend and she grows up. This was a well written interesting story. The lead character Julia's love of life was well contrasted with all of the death around her. Her voice very believable. Julia grows and changes as the story progressives. The ending was abrupt and somewhat unsatisfying although I would not have had a clue as to how to end this fascinating story. Recommended