Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta is the novel that inspires the recent HBO series.  The television series is, naturally enough, breaking away somewhat from the specifics of the novel’s narrative, moreso than the television series Dexter did with Jeff Lindsay's Darkly Dreaming Dexter.

Both the novel and the series focus mostly on the Garvey family—Kevin, the father, Laurie, the mother, Tom, the prodigal son, and Jill, the adolescent daughter—and Nora Durst, who lost her entire family in an unusual event when the 2% of the entire world’s population disappears.  The survivors all struggle with grief and function, more or less, in a world that no longer makes sense.  Naturally, there are religious zealots who believe this is The Rapture but there are also those who have their doubts, including a minister who feels it’s his mission to enlighten those who have remained behind by showing them that those who disappeared weren’t all saved.

The novel does an excellent job of revealing many complicated characters and their back stories, something the television show hasn’t quite accomplished although it seems to be trying to do so.  The different points-of-view of the various characters propel the story along, leading up to what is, ultimately, a thoroughly disappointing conclusion.  Let me be clear that I was not expecting an explanation for why or how the many people simply disappeared.  In fact, I think I would have been more disappointed if some unsatisfactory explanation had been provided.  Let me also say that I don’t mind unhappy or even ambiguous endings.  This novel offered none of these things.  Instead, it feels like the author wasn’t sure how to end things and succeeded only in creating some vague closure that simply didn’t work for me.

One can only hope and assume that the television show will do a better job.  However, David Lindelof, co-creator of Lost, is responsible for this show and many of that show’s loyal fans were left woefully unsatisfied with that show’s final episode.  In the meantime, if you’re watching the show and don’t want to be “spoiled” wait until the end of the first season.  The show has been renewed for a second season which means there is room for the program developers to depart more vigorously from the necessary narrow focus of the novel’s narrative.  This could work in their favor.  I don’t see how it could possibly hurt.

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