Right off the bat I will say that I have not watched the HBO adaptation of this novel, so my review is free of any comparisons which may have affected my feelings on the novel. That said, it seems a little counterintuitive to read a story about the aftermath of the disappearance (and seeming death) of a percentage of the population around the world given *gestures vaguely* everything, you know? But I thought, maybe this will make these strange feelings and emotions I’m having right now feel as though they are being seen and validated. What I am experience more than anything right now is a sense of being checked-out: a numbness or all-encompassing feeling of “blah” if you will. And that is certainly echoed int his novel through the everyday mundanities and seeming detachment the main characters experience in most of the their days. But coupled with my own detachment to things, most of the characters left me feeling very little, with the exception of a couple. Am I not in the right mindset here? I don’t think that’s it, as I’m managing to connect to other things lately, but sadly I was left with little in the case of this novel.
The Leftovers takes place a few years after a spontaneous, rapture-like event causes millions of people worldwide to suddenly vanish off the planet without a trace. Some families are decimated while others only tangentially know a person or two who was lost, just like how you may hear some talk of the AIDS crisis and how certain groups seemed to have been barely touched in terms of direct death itself, while others were completely wiped out. But in both that real life case and this fictional novel, everyone is affected in the aftermath in some profound way: how could you not, when something has changed the very understanding and fabric of living? The protagonists in this story center on the mayor of a suburban town in Ohio, including the mayor himself, Kevin, his daughter, Jill, his son, Tom, his wife, Laurie, and a woman named Nora who Kevin forms a new relationship with during the course of the story. Kevin urges people to try and return to life as normal, as he feels this is the best way for people to cope. Laurie has left her family to join the Guilty Remnant, a new religious group that does not speak, lives a basic life, and wants to remind people that they were left behind for some reason, and that returning to the status quo should not be done. Jill is grappling with the fact that while she was there when an old friend disappeared, she doesn’t feel all that much: she is more concerned with her mother abandoning the family, as well as her new and wild friend Aimee living with Jill and her father, her failing grades, and the fact that she doesn’t feel a point to a lot of things. Tom doesn’t feel right going back to college, and instead turns to a religion called the Holy Wayne, following a messiah figure who claims he can take people’s pain, but soon turns into a charismatic cult leader. Finally, Nora has had her entire family disappear, and she just can’t let that go, despite trying to live a normal life and figure out how she might fit into the world again with all that has happened, including trying to start dating again despite her continued emotional connection to her past life.
Everyone deals with trauma differently, I know this, but some of these characters I just didn’t get. Laurie never feels all that attached to her role in the Guilty Remnant, and I never felt like any connection to her joining was really explained: sure we see her friend go there and then she does, but why? She was an egg I couldn’t crack, and I really wanted to know her more to understand her more. Kevin feels so surface as well, and Tom is understandable in his situation but as a character himself I didn’t feel compelled by him. The most engaging are Jill and Nora, who I felt were given the most depth to feel like real people and not just pieces moving on a chessboard. Also, back to Kevin, I know there were purposeful lines about how he is an adult and therefore if he feels any unwitting attraction to his daughter’s friend living with them, he must take charge and stop them. Okay, great, but why does Tom, a college-age student also need to have a romantic attachment or attraction to a teenage girl during the course of the novel? I mean, why do you feel the need to include that in your story not once, but twice (okay so Tom may not be that much older but the circumstances are not great). And for what, in the end? Do these plots culminate in any sort of commentary on the theme of attraction to younger women? No? It’s just a bit suspicious to me.
Maybe I was looking for something this book wasn’t going to give me. I mean, there are definitely some seeds in there of deeper ideas about how we may react after unexplained events such as these that affect everyone. But I just really didn’t feel like the majority of the characters were that connected in a way that felt real to me, minus the two of Jill and Nora. Had the whole book been about them, and gone even deeper into their experiences, I think I could have liked it more. Because there is something here, it just didn’t break through for me. What I boiled it down to is that there is a dispassion to the characters in this novel which when piled onto my own disaffected feelings at the current moment results in, well, as I said before, a big old pile of blah. Then again, maybe that’s the point, the fact that we will be feeling confused and lost and detached for a long time. It’s just not very compelling to read about, you know?