Monday, January 23, 2012

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta — Audiobook Review

Unabridged audiobook production recorded by Macmillan Audio.
Narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris
Run Length: 10 hours 18 minutes


The Rapture has come and gone, and for the town of Mapleton, things just haven’t bounced back in the way that one would expect. After what becomes known as The Sudden Departure, many are disillusioned and confused, and strange cult-like groups have formed in the town, making the more normal residents wary and hostile. For a handful of people, that fateful day remains haunting and sorrowful; but for others it marks the beginning of a change in their circumstances that can’t be evaluated or measured. From the Mayor who has lost his wife to one of the cults and his eldest son to an enigmatic man who fancies himself the risen Messiah, to a lonely woman named Nora who’s whole family disappeared on that strange day, the people of Mapleton can’t help but feel like this was either some colossal mistake or a very bad joke. Each of them lives life in the hollow spaces left behind by their recently departed. As the members of the Guilty Remnant excise themselves from their families and take to communal living, a vow of silence and a religious compunction to use tobacco, they come to believe that their efforts will make it impossible for them to be left behind again. Meanwhile a group of adolescents try to make sense of this strange new world where they’ve been left behind to roam in the absence of close friends and family. In this deeply human and provocative look into the aftermath of a calamitous event, Tom Perrotta gives us a slice-of-life novel that explores the myriad of ways that people fall apart and how they hold it all together in the light of a mystifying and frightening tragedy.

I’ve been pretty excited about this book since a few months before its debut, and had hoped to read it a lot sooner than I did. The always generous and wonderful Heather over at Book Addiction kindly lent me the audio version, and though I had a copy of the book in print, I decided audio was the way to go with this one. The audiobook was expertly narrated by Dennis Boutsikaris, a voice that I haven’t heard before but that was very well suited to the story. His vocal inflections held just the right note of hope interspersed with sadness that I think Perrotta was going for in his work. I was pleased with the audio performance of this novel and would be happy to hear Boutsikaris read again.

I was really glad to have read so many reviews of this book before attempting it, because, in a stunning reversal, hearing about the nuts and bolts of this story enabled me to be realistic about what to expect from Perrotta’s book about the Rapture. Namely that there was no real examination of how or why it took place and there was no final revelation in the conclusion as to what would happen next. Many people felt disappointed by this, but I felt that knowing that there would be no answers on this front moved narrative obstacles out of my way and let me see the story for what it truly was: an examination of a town that was dealing with the aftermath of a shocking and bizarre situation. At its core, this is a story about people: their sadness, their joys and their ultimate reliance on each other. In this way, it was a lot like Perrotta’s other novels, showcasing the human plight of a group of people who were tenuously connected.

There were some really interesting plot elements here, and one of my favorites was the path taken by the Guilty Remnant. Though it was made clear that these people weren’t forced to be part of this movement, there did seem to be an element of brainwashing that took place among the members. In later developments, the GR, as they are known in the story, do some terrible things to garnish themselves with a certain elite status among the remaining citizens, and I felt some of this was also done to draw others in. I also found their reasoning for using tobacco as a religious statement to be pretty interesting as well as very personally counter-intuitive. The GR seemed like a pretty scary organization, but it begged the question: what lengths will people go to when the unexpected and untenable happen and their world and sense of personal and familial safety are severely compromised? The book also made me question what reaction I would have if an event of that magnitude took place. How would I deal with it?

Overall, this was a rather melancholy book, but once again, that’s something that I’ve come to expect with Perrotta, and I didn’t mind the solemness because it was not only well deserved but carried merit and deep emotional resonance. There were some  snicker-worthy moments, but all in all, this was a book that reflected the more serious emotions of grief, loss and a sort of emotional stagnancy that each of the characters embodied in their own way. It was about the choices that people make and go on making after the unthinkable happens and they realize that life continues to go on whether they like it or not. It was about the frailty underlying the power of our emotional exchanges and it examined the separate paths that each person travels on the road of grief.

All in all, I was pretty pleased with this book and the imagination and heart that Perrotta displayed in his rendering of this story. Is this book about the whys and hows of the Rapture? Not really. It’s more an examination of life and the emotional  inconsistencies that we all face on a day to day basis. It’s about the human condition, and that’s one of the reasons that I enjoyed it so much. Perrotta is a master who excels at painting the infinitesimal with discrete intimacy, and if that’s the kind of thing that you appreciate, you will love this book. Recommended.

Click the player below to check out a sample of the audiobook and to hear Dennis Boutsikaris’ engaging and lively rendering of the tale.



24 comments:

Jenny said...

I love that being realistic about what to expect made you appreciate this book. He has always done well in past books at examining society and it sounds like he does that sp well here. I've had this on my shelf pretty much since it came out... I need to read it!!

Jenna said...

What a great review! It's always a good feeling when reading book reviews actually helps you enjoy the book more instead of building it up so much that enjoying it is near impossible. The idea of the GR does sound interesting, and I love books that make me question what my own reactions would be in such a situation. I'm definitely more inclined to check this one out after reading your thoughts!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I started this but just couldn't get grabbed, so I didn't continue. I think I would have wanted more background info.

Mrs Q Book Addict said...

This one sounds like a book I would need to me in the mood for. I'm glad that you enjoyed it.

TheBookGirl said...

I enjoyed Perotta's Abstinence Teacher and Little Children, but have put off reading this one, I think because of all the mixed reviews I saw. Your review has given me a better sense of what the books is -- and what it isn't -- and I now want to pick it up soon. I am glad I waited as long as I did to start it because I am going into it with very tempered expectations. Your suggestion about the audio intrigues me, as I love Dennis B. and think he would make a great narrator, tho I've never listened to one of his narrations before. I may do the read in print interspersed with audio listening for this one.

Kailana said...

I have been hearing lots of good things about this author. One of these days I am going to read him!

Andi said...

I haven't read ANY of Perrotta's books, which is ridiculous on my part since I own The Abstinence Teacher AND Little Children. This one looks fascinating as well, and thanks for another great review!

Ti said...

I thought this one was okay. I wanted more from the mother and I had a hard time believing she could totally abandon her daughter.

bermudaonion said...

My life is rather melancholy right now, so I'll probably have to be in the right mood to read this book.

softdrink said...

I really liked how the Rapture was just used as the setting, not the main point of the book. I'm not sure I would've liked the book as much as I did, otherwise.

Lisa said...

Sold! But it does sound like one that's good to know what to expect from it. Knowing it's a book about the people left behind after the rapture rather than a story about the rapture going in helps a lot.

Jenners said...

You hit the nail on the head. The whole "Rapture" thing is almost incidental to what Perrotta really wants to focus on and look at. I just love this author.

Vasilly said...

This sounds so good! Focusing on the people instead of the event, has me interested in this. I think I'm going to get it on audio. Thanks for the great review.

Geosi said...

I think books dealing with the human condition is one i will be interested to read. this sounds like an interesting one of course.

Aths said...

I've been hearing a lot about this book too, so someday I will read it. I didn't realize that some questions are not answered - now that I know it, I will make sure I don't have those expectations either.

Beth F said...

I too like the focus of this. I have a copy of the book but never opened it up (for no particular reason). Maybe I'll go with the audio version too.

Steph said...

Wonderful review! I've heard some really interesting things about this book and this author, but I think I have found your review the most useful of all. I am sure that had I not read this, I would really have been bothered about the fact that Perotta didn't explain the Rapture fully... but now I'll know not to expect that, and I think I'll be better able to enjoy the book. You've really made me interested in trying this author out!

Audra said...

I've long wanted to read this one -- I think Carrie at Nomadreader really likes Perrotta. This was a great review because you tempered my expectations -- always helpful when a book gets a ton of hot praise! I almost never listen to audio books and you've got me a little intrigued, though!

Amy said...

The Guilty Remnant was certainly an interesting, strange group and the lengths people were willing to go to were pretty astounding. I still sometimes wonder about Laurie!

I'm interested in reading some of Perrotta's other books now to see what I think, especially Election. I loved the movie version.

Darlene said...

I've read a few of his books and liked his style of writing. I have this one on my shelf somewhere and hope to read it soon although it sounds as though the audio might be the way to go.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

shhh, don't tell ... I haven't yet read any of Tom Perrotta's work (wait, that's not true! I read and really enjoyed a short story he wrote for the Boston Book Fest!) ...

Thanks for reminding me that this isn't about the Rapture, that's only the setting, it seems. I guess it's like a book about time travel -- better not to ask too many questions, and to simply observe the characters and their reactions to the situation.

Glad you reminded me that I have this sitting on my shelves, Heather!

Heather @ Book Addiction said...

This is a seriously excellent review, Heather! (as always!) I think my biggest issue with this one was my too-high expectations. If I had a more clear picture in my mind of what the book is (and is not) I think I would have been happier with it overall. But Perotta is truly a talented writer and I should really read more of his books. Oh, and I agree about the audio being a great choice!

Marie said...

He's a really fun writer. I loved Election and enjoyed Little Children, and I do want to read this one eventually!

Amy said...

I love your point about how sometimes knowing what you are getting in to can make a story better. You really know what parts to focus on more. Great review.

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