cover image Leave the World Behind

Leave the World Behind

Rumaan Alam. Ecco, $27.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-266763-2

In Alam’s spectacular and ominous latest (after That Kind of Mother), a family’s idyllic summer retreat coincides with global catastrophe. Amanda and Clay, married white Brooklynites with two children, rent a secluded house in the Hamptons for a summer vacation. Their “illusion of ownership” is shattered when the house’s proprietors, G.H. and Ruth, an African American couple in their 60s, show up unannounced from New York City. Widespread blackouts have hit the East Coast, and G.H. and Ruth are seeking refuge in the beach house they’ve rented out. The returned owners are greeted with polite suspicion and simmering resentment: “It was torture, a home invasion without rape or guns,” thinks Amanda. G.H. and Ruth, in turn, can’t help but wish their renters gone (“G. H.’s familiar old fridge yielded nothing but surprise. He’d not have filled it with such things”). But over a couple days, they form an uneasy collective as a series of strange and increasingly menacing events herald cataclysmic change, from migrating herds of deer to the thunder of military jets roaring overhead. The omniscient narrator occasionally zooms out to provide snapshots of the wider chaotic world that are effective in their brevity. Though information is scarce, the signs of impending collapse—ecological and geopolitical—have been glaringly visible to the characters all along: “No one could plead ignorance that was not willful.” This illuminating social novel offers piercing commentary on race, class and the luxurious mirage of safety, adding up to an all-too-plausible apocalyptic vision. (Oct.)