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.