January 4, 2015

The Leftovers

What would you do if the people you love just disappeared?

We’ve all lost loved ones through the dissolution of relationships and through death, but what if someone close to you just vanished into thin air? If someone you cared for, who cared for you, just vaporized, and you have no way to answer where they are or why they left?

What would happen to your community, your town, your country, if this vanishing, this disappearance happened on a grand scale? If millions of people around the world just vanished one day, with no pattern or reason as to why one person disappeared and why another was left behind? How would that change the way you thought about yourself, about life, about the world in which you live?

People often make fun of me because of my fear of revolving doors — I’ve mostly resolved that phobia now — but the fear didn’t come from the door itself, but because revolving doors have one characteristic that makes me uncomfortable: they don’t close.

There’s something about closure that makes things easier to cope with, to understand, to process. A door that closes has finality; losing someone to death or divorce also has a similar sense of end. A lack of closure is unsettling, unnerving, difficult.

Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers is ostensibly a novel about society after millions of people just vanish, but really, it is a story about closure. It is a book that looks at how various people deal with the loss of their loved ones, a loss without closure, without reason, without explanation. It is a story that grapples with loss, coping, rebuilding, self-doubt, and an acceptance of futility.

The characters in The Leftovers are all struggling with closure, and they all face that struggle in a different way. Everyone has nagging questions, and none of those questions get answered. Perrotta’s prose isn’t poetry, and the story is sometimes plodding, but the internal conflict of every character is poignant and resonant. The Leftovers appeals to us because it is relatable; it is a struggle we have all known, and the novel captures it well.

There is only a hint of closure at the end of the book, which is apt: Perrotta reminds us that there are always questions, there is always doubt. Not every question can be answered, and that’s unsettling, but that’s okay.

→ Marginalia