Monthly Archives: October 2011

Book Review: The Leftovers

The Leftovers
The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Rapture. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. It’s the belief held by most Christians that, at the end times, the faithful will be lifted up to heaven, disappearing from the earth, leaving the unfaithful behind. But what if the Rapture actually occurred, but it wasn’t really the Rapture?

This is the question posed by Tom Perrotta in The Leftovers. In the novel, a Rapture-like event occurs, where millions of people around the world simply vanish. Except that this Rapture, instead of resulting in the disappearance of the Christian faithful, appears to be random. People from all walks of life, and from all faiths disappeared. In the aftermath of the Sudden Departure, as it’s referred to, society tries to pick up and carry on with life. There’s speculation as to what actually happened. Some say it was the Rapture. Others say it was a natural event, such as the planet’s immune response to too many people. Whatever the explanation, it only serves as background, and the novel instead focuses on the social aftermath of the Sudden Departure, primarily focused on one family, the Garveys.

The novel starts (after the prologue) on the three year anniversary of the Sudden Departure as a parade for the Heroes’ Day of Remembrance begins through the town of Mapleton. We are introduced to the characters and how each has reacted to the changed world. Kevin Garvey, the patriarch of the family, has been elected as town mayor, and does his best to continue handling business and juggle his disintegrating family. His wife, Laurie, has left him to join a nihilistic cult known as the Guilty Remnant, who believe that the world has essentially ended and people need to be reminded of the fact that nothing else now matters. Their daughter Jill, who was an eyewitness as her friend disappeared while right next to her, and has gone from being a star student to a rebellious teenager in the vein of the movie “Thirteen.” And their son, Tom, has joined a different cult known as the Church of the Holy Wayne, a cult with a charismatic leader who has recently been arrested on a large number of charges. In addition, another character, Nora, whose entire family disappeared in the Sudden Departure, becomes loosely involved with the Garveys and their story.

The Leftovers follows these characters lives for approximately six months following the third anniversary of the Sudden Departure. It’s a slice-of-life novel about these characters’ struggles and their changing lives during this period. And, with the exception of some minor speculation at the beginning about the nature of the event, the Sudden Departure doesn’t play a big roll in the novel altogether. This novel could be about a family’s struggles after any national or global tragedy. It becomes a fairly generic family struggle in the wake of these events, with the possible exception of a major cult presence.

And this is the biggest problem with The Leftovers. What makes it stand out…is that it doesn’t really stand out. It could have been any disaster that causes people to search for themselves and to lose family members. The Sudden Departure itself turns out not to be that significant to the story, and the family’s struggles are generic if a bit extreme. As such, The Leftovers failed to grip me, which is likely why it took me so long to finish it and the more I read, the more it felt like I was going through my own kind of struggle.

Which is a major problem. It’s so generic that, at the end, I had to ask myself what the point was. Which may be the point itself. I recall that the Center for Disease Control recently issued guidelines for how to prepare for a zombie apocalypse. It wasn’t serious, but their point was that most disasters call for the same type of preparation (food, water, blankets, etc.). This could be the point of the The Leftovers, that being that personal and family struggles during different disasters may change their form, but at the end are all similar.

There’s a certain underlying dark humor to the novel. The language is accessible and beautiful at the same time, and the characters are most definitely believable. Some of the characters are simply average, and others you just downright doesn’t like. In fact, I didn’t like most of the characters. Most of them are too self-centered for me to care about what happens to them.

Ultimately, I can’t give The Leftovers a recommendation. It ultimately felt too generic and near the end I found myself detesting the characters and wanting to give up on the book. There are small elements to like about the novel that prevent me from giving it a bottom rating, and maybe others will find more to like about the book than I did, but in the end, it’s not for me.

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta earns 2 out of 5 stars.

Note: A free Advanced Reader’s Edition of this book was sent to this reviewer by St. Martin’s Press through a Goodreads First Read giveaway. This did not affect this review in any way.

View all my reviews

Steve Jobs: Memories of a Man I Never Met

Thanks SteveYou’ll have to forgive some of the following, as I’m writing this while recovering from the flu.

It’s an odd feeling writing this post, especially as I recently started reading The Little Kingdom, purely by coincidence. As everyone knows by now, Steve Jobs passed away yesterday. By now, shrines have been popping up at your local Apple store. No, I’m serious. Go check your local store. There’s probably one there.

I never met the man, but knew him by reputation and by his products. I remember Apple in the early years. The first computer I used regularly and learned to program on was an Apple II. I’m sure that many who grew up in the ’80s had an Apple computer in their classroom. This was in the days when the Apple logo was rainbow-colored, and had not yet become the current classy metallic apple.

I remember the hard times for Apple. Most considered them a dying voice in the computer industry during the ’90s, as the PC took over the market and shoved Apple to the side. I remember Steve Jobs being forced out, and the company being driven further down. But at the time, Apple was so iconic that my class was assigned to learn about Jobs and Woz during one computer class in middle school, during the early ’90s.

And I remember Steve Jobs’ return to Apple, first as the interim CEO, then as the permanent CEO. And Apple’s triumphant rise, lead by the release of the iPod. And Apple became a force to be reckoned with again.

The above was a brief recollection of Apple and Steve Jobs’ influence on its story from my perspective growing up at the same time Apple did. But for Jobs’ personal influence on people’s lives, I can say this: He made computers cool and technology fun. I have little doubt that consumer electronics would not be where they are today without him. Because of Jobs’ design and influence, he made technology and computers accessible to the layman, something that had primarily only been used by the military and major corporations until Jobs’ and Woz’s little company came along. And in the last decade, he made it cool with devices like the iPod for music lovers, and iPhones changing the way we communicate (some say that Star Trek was the inspiration for a lot of technological advances, but the communicator had nothing on the iPhone). I would even go so far as to say that Apple became sexy. The home computer market grew and developed as new versions of the Mac were released, providing ease of use beyond where others had failed. With the founding of Pixar, Jobs made computers even cooler and led the way in feature-length computer animation, something that inspired my own studies in college.

Yes, Steve Jobs did have a reputation which preceded him. He was known to be demanding in the best of times, and even a jerk at others. But he was a perfectionist with a vision, something that’s not necessarily bad. He marched to his own drummer, in spite of what others said or did, and look at the result, becoming a legend in his own lifetime. Not to mention that when you get that powerful and influential, these kinds of stories will come out. Walt Disney has had similar stories about him, a man whose legacy has ironically intersected with Jobs’ own. But even people who derided Jobs for his perfectionism still seemed to love and respect him for his vision.

There are many words that people have used to describe Steve Jobs since his passing yesterday. Pioneer. Visionary. Genius. Personally, I feel that trying to describe the man in one word would invariably come up short. I will say that he was the coolest of nerds, and he ultimately helped to make the world a smaller place by connecting everyone a little more closely, whether it be through direct communication or through simply being part of a community, whether they be Apple enthusiasts, music-lovers, or simply family who communicate through the technology he created. At the same time, today my iPod’s screen looks a little darker.

I’ll leave you with one of the more inspirational videos I’ve seen, and it happens to be of Steve Jobs’ commencement speech at Stanford University.

Steven Paul Jobs, 1955-2011

Credit for the Apple Logo with Steve Jobs’ silhouette at the top of this article, titled “Thanks Steve,” goes to Jonathan Mark Long.