Hey, Mom! The Explanation.

Here's the permanent dedicated link to my first Hey, Mom! post and the explanation of the feature it contains.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Leftovers - a review

The Leftovers - a review

Intrigued by the TV show, helmed by Damon Lindelof of Lost fame, I decided to give this book a read. I liked the premise very much. The idea of two percent of the world's population vanishing suddenly and without explanation fascinates me. It's also close in concept to an apocalyptic book on which I have been at work for years though I kill off 75% of the world's population. However, despite my affection for the premise, I did not like this book.

I am giving the book a rating of two stars, and it's truly two stars. I considered giving it one star, but Perotta writes well enough as a craftsman that one star would be an unfair assessment.

Perotta wastes his concept. He starts with a very good concept; as I mentioned, it's a concept into which I have put a great deal of thought. And yet, he does not do anything significant or thoughtful with the concept. Even if seen as a reflection on grief and the grieving process, the book is a failure. We do not see the characters do much grieving, and when we do see it, it's almost comical, and, really, there's nothing funny about grieving.

Stephen King wrote, in his piece in the New York Times Book Review that "The Leftovers is, simply put, the best Twilight Zone episode you never saw." I simply cannot agree. Based on the premise alone, yes. The idea of disappearing 140 million people and examining the aftermath for the world and a set of characters is a good idea for a novel. But this is not a good novel.

I am willing to admit that in part my reaction originates with my expectations. I just finished reading Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (which is why the King review quote bites harder), and I had become accustomed to a plot-driven, powerful story in which THINGS HAPPEN. The Leftovers is a character driven book with a great premise that fails to deliver on its premise. Technically, it is not poorly written. Tom Perotta is a deft writer with skill in handling language, scene, and character. And though I would like to know why the people disappeared and how, I understand the point of leaving this unexplained and uncertain. Where did they go? Why did they go? Will they be coming back? Will they have aged if they come back? The book leaves all of these questions unanswered, leaving the reader in the same state as the characters, but the character development and story do very little that is interesting or worth reading to compensate for not revealing the truth of what happened. Had I not been listening to this book on audio, I would have put it down after 50-75 pages, during which NOTHING HAPPENED.

Granted, Perotta's goal may be to create an aftermath story following a massive catastrophic event and show that very little changes, that very little happens. But this idea is not worth exploring in a novel.

In an interview following the audio book presentation, Perotta explains that he considers his novel to be a "comic novel." I was a bit surprised by this description as there is very little comic about this novel. What may have been meant as comic or absurd comes off rather than as ill-conceived and stupid. As I wrote earlier, there's nothing funny about grief. But given what happened, there's not nearly enough grief in this book.

Though I am a bit surprised to see that the book received 82 five star reviews and 109 four star reviews on Amazon, I am also pleased to see that it received 255 reviews of three stars and below: three star [103], two star [88], and one star [64].

I feel a bit hypocritical writing a bad review of any novel. As a writer myself, I know how difficult it is to just finish a book, let alone to craft a good story with engaging characters. On the other hand, as an unpublished writer seeing this book published simply on the strength of the author's previous work and success galls me to no end. If I submitted this book, I bet it would have been rejected by every agent and publisher whose desk it passed across because it's just not a very good book.

What little story there is here concludes much too quickly and uneventfully, which the author may argue is much like real life. Yes, that's true. But who wants to read about "real" life? The plot suffers because the characters are not very interesting. Had Perotta created more engaging characters and let them loose without bits in their mouths hauling on tack and bridle, he might have salvaged a better novel. As it is, the characters are wasted. His intriguing Holy Wayne character disappears without incident. The town Mayor avoids sleeping with his daughter's friend by chance and circumstance not through struggle and conflict. The devotees of the Guilty Remnant--a poorly explained, post-apocalyptic cult--engage in a sacrifice that in the end is even less explained and meaningful than the cult itself. The woman whose entire family disappears has the most interesting and eventful story of all, but even her story lacks impact because she is just not a very interesting character.

What I have seen of the TV show is already much more interesting than this novel. Lindelof changed much of the situations and characters and actually generated some actual conflict and some better mystery, and yet even so, the TV show is not very riveting.

Just when I wondered if I was losing my critical chops (as I wonder, here in my DOCTOR SLEEP review). Definitely, not lost yet.

- Bloggery committed by chris tower - 1407.27 - 8:48
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