cover image The Leftovers

The Leftovers

Tom Perrotta. St. Martin's, $25.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-312-35834-1

Perrotta (The Abstinence Teacher) gets seriously dystopian with his sixth novel when millions of people vanish into thin air one fine October day. Although the "Sudden Departure" resembles the Rapture, it was a secular event, leaving a hodgepodge of survivors with neither solace nor faith. Despite the fact that her family was left intact, suburban housewife Laurie Garvey feels compelled to leave her husband, the mayor of Mapleton, and their two teenage children, to join the Guilty Remnant, a cult that still believes the end of the world is nigh. G.R. members must obey three rules: remain silent, wear white, and smoke cigarettes. Perrotta wittily and economically establishes this intriguing premise, but then largely sidelines his sharp satiric eye in favor of a straightforward examination of loss and bewilderment. Laurie's motivations are frustratingly vague: "She had joined the G.R. because... she had no choice." The senseless, sometimes absurd mission of the cult mirrors the gaping hole blown into modern morality, as hapless survivors trudge about, failing to connect in meaningful ways. Laurie's daughter, Jill, is morally adrift, and her son, Tom, comes under the sway of a charlatan religious healer, until suffering a cruel disillusionment. Though all the ennui is surely the point, the end of the world isn't much fun. (Sept.)