Novelist Tom Perrotta is a Jersey boy. Born in Garwood,(1961) grew up in blue-collar Newark and was a big fan of Bruce Springsteen.

I came to Perrotta via the movie version of his book Election. That book is about a crazy high-school election. It was supposedly inspired by the three-candidate 1992 United States presidential race. Election was bought by director Alexander Payne and that led to interest in publishing it as a book. So, the book came out in 1998 and the film was released in 1999. It starred Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon and I recommend it. It really launched Perrotta as an author.

illustration for a review of THE LEFTOVERS via

Tom Perrotta newest book is The Leftovers which came out last year but I only got to read this year. It’s about a “Rapture” that isn’t a rapture. I like the Stephen King blurb that called it “the best Twilight Zone episode you never saw — not ‘The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,’ but ‘The Monsters Are Us in Mapleton.'”

What if the Rapture happened and you got left behind?

It is set in a small New Jersey suburb, where families are trying to get on with their lives. When the event occurs and people just disappear from all over the planet, people react in many different ways. It’s not that only the good people vanished. In fact, there seems to be no way to describe those who were taken as a group.

Groups form. The “Guilty Remnant” really get into smoking cigarettes and take a vow of silence since there is no future, so why worry about your health. They are “bearing witness” and feel guilty since they were rejected by God.

Being alive (left behind) seems more a punishment though you might think of yourself as one of the lucky ones to still be alive. It is a story of ordinary people reacting to extraordinary and inexplicable events.

Maybe this event (I want to call it the Rapture anyway) is just a purely random disappearance. There is the time before and the time after. There are people who lost people they cared about, so it is an event that changed the world.

The people of Mapleton lost over a hundred people in the Sudden Departure, but the story focuses on the Garvey family. Reviews have interpreted it as a metaphor for American society after 9/11, but it’s focus is small. I like how it looks at the suburbs, a place I know in New Jersey too. It’s not unlike my beloved Updike stories or those by Cheever and other. Nice, quiet, tree-lined neighborhoods that have all the monsters and epic battles of sci-fi, in their own way.

Perrotta is the son of a postman and a secretary. He raised Roman Catholic. He lists auhors such as O. Henry, J. R. R. Tolkien, and John Irving as early influences. He started writing stories in high school, got an M.A. in English/Creative Writing from Syracuse University. He sees himself as a plain-language American writer in the tradition of Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver

I really like his simple approach to a very complex set of ideas. Some people might dismiss that approach as over-simplification. This is definitely a book for me to put into my “Think About It” category here. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts about the book.

Tom’s website offers a free excerpt of the novel.

There is a good interview from NPR’s “Fresh Air” with the author about this book.

Also recommended reads by Perrotta: The Abstinence Teacher, Joe College: A Novel and The Wishbones