Place of Refuge

Place of Refuge

16 October 2011

Are We Just Left Overs?

One of the many things I admire about Tom Perrotta's new book,
The Leftovers, is its optimism.  Its initial premise is far from optimistic:
it begins with the idea that a large part of the human population
just disappeared one day -- and an even larger part is left behind.
"Left-over."  The plot begins after the sudden disappearance.
Very few in the book dare call this event The Rapture,
because to do so would be to acknowledge that the Leftovers were
not blessed, were individuals who had done something fundamentally
wrong in their lives.  As Perrotta's book says at the introduction:
"'Something tragic occurred,' the experts repeated over and over.
'It was a Rapture-like phenomenon, but it doesn't appear to have been
the Rapture.'"  It goes on to say: "Interestingly, some of the loudest
voices making this argument belonged to Christians themselves, who
couldn't help noticing that many of the people who'd disappeared
on October 14th--Hindus and Buddhists and Muslims and Jews and
atheists and animists and homosexuals and Eskimos and Mormons
and Zoroastrians, whatever the heck they were--hadn't accepted
Jesus Christ as their personal savior."

The book proceeds to create a world pretty much like the one
we all live in right now, save for the fact that humanity must proceed
under the cloud of feeling that they have missed the bus, so to speak,
and have been left to proceed in a world without something to look forward to.
Good friends, family members, mates and enemies had dematerialized,
and in the wake of that, the remaining characters seek ways to deal with their
feelings of inadequacy and loss.  So some strikingly familiar groups emerge:
The Barefoot People, for one, a bunch of Neo-Hippies who go around barefoot
of course, avoiding baths and smoking marijuana, living communally or
having huge parties with lots of sex, drugs and rock n' roll.

Notably,  something sort of like this has already happened:

from: the website for the Society for Barefoot Living.

Similarly, a large group of people begin following a character called
The Holy Wayne,  a creepy Harold Campingish figure who gains
followers because of his charismatic Healing Hug, but his popularity
ultimately turns him into a perverted power monger.  By the
end of the book, he is put in jail for his transgressions, and
his followers are left more adrift then they were at the beginning
of the novel.


And the beginning of the novel is full of characters adrift.
The one who sets the tone of the book is Laurie Garvey,
a character raised with no beliefs to speak of.  Pre-Disappearance,
she finds meaning in her family and comfortable suburban existence,
but after the daughter of one of her friends disappears, she begins to lose
her grasp of whatever meaning her life had.  Feeling her life
has been a scam, she joins a very very creepy group called The Watchers,
people who disavow every aspect of their previous life, who spook around town wearing white,
smoke cigarettes, and stalk those citizens of the novel who dare to try to
live a normal life in the Post-Rapture world.  Including Laurie's husband
Kevin, who is left alone with their daughter Jill and Jill's friend Aimee --

What I find most disturbingly authentic about the novel is portrayed through
Jill, who is a late teen.  She ends up engaged in drinking and meaningless
sex, the very pursuits that I, as a college professor, have come to understand
are already central to many of our college-aged youth today.  Jill's loss of her
mom to the Watchers is not all that different from the large number of young
people I have met recently whose parents deserted their families for their own
personal, often selfish pursuits, leaving their children to struggle with the
superficiality and fragility of the illusion of a functioning family.

wikipedia - blackdeath

As I read this book and saw the parallels between the world we live in
today, I even began to wonder if we might be able to say that we are all, already,
Left-Overs.  Perhaps the Rapture has already happened, or perhaps
it is happening as we speak.  I think of earthquakes and hurricanes
and floods and illnesses that have occurred in recent years,
taking away vast numbers of people in one fell swoop,
or the plague of cancer that robs us regularly of our beloved,
at younger ages and in more senseless ways, and I think:
perhaps this is how The Rapture may work -- in very
natural, biological ways, taking large numbers of people
over a relatively short period of time, leaving the rest of us to deal
with the responsibility attached with their loss.

Perhaps, too, in the cycle of life, even End Times come in cycles.
If the end is, ultimately, loss and the adjustment that comes along with it,
we have had countless Raptures over time -- countless
potential End Times -- plagues and wars and other forms of loss --
that have left LeftOvers, real-life human individuals
challenged to deal with the potential meaninglessness
that accompanies great and excessive loss.

Faced with such intense loss,
we could hang our hopes on False Saviors,
be they religious or political,
or we could seek to find,
as I would dare to argue
some of the characters in The Leftovers seek to find
a humane and authentic way to live in the real world,
and by finding a humane and authentic way
to live in the real world, we might even create a new world,
full of happiness for just being alive,
and hope for a peaceful tomorrow.



Debra She Who Seeks said...

Sounds like an interesting book! If I'm a leftover, I hope I'm pizza. Yum.

Makropoulos said...

Yeah. I'm either pizza or cold chicken.

laurak@forestwalkart said...

well, i've felt like LeftOvers so many times in my life...that if i were a slice of pizza, i'd be all shriveled and cold. hold the meat...i'd rather just be a cheese pizza! :)

if it was the End Times...we would all be in the same 'place' the end...after the end...and that's why i don't go for religion. they all think they're the 'right ones'. we all came into the world the same way...and the same thing happens to us all in the end.
there is no right answer.

have a happy weekend!

laurak@forestwalkart said...

OH i forgot to mention...i LoVE that last picture!!

Makropoulos said...

So do I! It's kind of a hint about the end of the Leftovers -- it's a good book!

Billy Joe said...

Somewhere I read that the Dali Lama said that prayer wouldn't save the world, knowledge would. In a sense he is right. We must have conscious knowledge of something before we can pray and act upon it.

I'll have to check this book out. Reading this post I thought of the many people following the Mayan 2012 prophecy. They really aren't much different from Christians who believe in the rapture.

I hope we come to a knowledge of the interconnectedness of all things.