Imagine this: one day, millions of people around the world simply disappear. Some of them are your family members, neighbors and co-workers. Others are from from across the country and from around the world. Millions of them, gone forever without explanation.
For those left behind, there is insurmountable grief and bewilderment. Some view it as the rapture — the biblical prophesy come true; others aren't so sure. The only thing that's certain is how uncertain the world and the future appear to be.
That is the premise behind Tom Perrotta's new novel, "The Leftovers." Perrotta, a Belmont native, says that as far as disasters go, he has been drawn to the idea of the rapture — the sudden disappearance of millions of people — in particular.
"I had been interested in the apocalyptic genre and I think a lot of the other scenarios are well-worn," Perrotta said. "You have the zombie apocalypse, you have the epidemic, you have the nuclear holocaust. The Rapture actually is one of the biblical scenarios and it's one that hasn't really entered popular culture in the same way that some of those other ones have."
The Rapture isn't just a biblical notion to Perrotta, however.
"I think it actually serves as a great metaphor for living with loss," Perrotta said. "I think we all, as we get older, are conscience of the fact that people who were with us aren't there and we have to keep going."
"The Leftovers" tells the story of one American town and one family — the Garveys — as they struggle to come to terms with the disappearance of all those people.
- Tom Perrotta, author, "The Leftovers"
Excerpt: "The Leftovers" (PDF)
By Tom Perrotta
Laurie Garvey hadn’t been raised to believe in the Rapture. She hadn’t been raised to believe in much of anything, except the foolishness of belief itself.
We’re agnostics, she used to tell her kids, back when they were little and needed a way to define themselves to their Catholic and Jewish and Unitarian friends. We don’t know if there’s a God, and nobody else does, either. They might say they do, but they really don’t.
The first time she’d heard about the Rapture, she was a freshman in college, taking a class called Intro to World Religions. The phenomenon the professor described seemed like a joke to her, hordes of Christians floating out of their clothes, rising up through the roofs of their houses and cars to meet Jesus in the sky, everyone else standing around with their mouths hanging open, wondering where all the good people had gone. The theology remained murky to her, even after she read the section on “Premillenial Dispensationalism” in her textbook, all that mumbo jumbo about Armageddon and the Antichrist and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It felt like religious kitsch, as tacky as a black velvet painting, the kind of fantasy that appealed to people who ate too much fried food, spanked their kids, and had no problem with the theory that their loving God invented AIDS to punish the gays. Every once in a while, in the years that followed, she’d spot someone reading one of the Left Behind books in an airport or on a train, and feel a twinge of pity, and even a little bit of tenderness, for the poor sucker who had nothing better to read, and nothing else to do, except sit around dreaming about the end of the world.
And then it happened. The biblical prophecy came true, or at least partly true. People disappeared, millions of them at the same time, all over the world. This wasn’t some ancient rumor—a dead man coming back to life during the Roman Empire—or a dusty homegrown legend, Joseph Smith unearthing golden tablets in upstate New York, conversing with an angel. This was real. The Rapture happened in her own hometown, to her best friend’s daughter, among others, while Laurie herself was in the house. God’s intrusion into her life couldn’t have been any clearer if He’d addressed her from a burning azalea.
This program aired on November 24, 2011.