Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

Stumbling toward decency: ‘The Leftovers’ in Perrotta’s 2011 novel grapple with the aftermath of a mysterious vanishing

May 29, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
May 29, 2014

Tom Perrotta’s 2011 novel, The Leftovers, spins a moving story based on an unusual premise.

One mid-October day, millions of people suddenly vanish from the Earth. This eerie phenomenon is not the Rapture, because many of the departed were Jews, Muslims and others who did not worship Jesus as the messiah. Perrotta, one of my favorite American novelists, mainly tracks the aftermath of what is called the “Sudden Departure” from the perspective of the Garvey family.

Following the stage-setting prologue, in which mother of two Laurie Garvey joins a cult that forbids its members from speaking, the main action begins three years after the still-unexplained mass vanishing. Kevin Garvey is now the first-term mayor of Mapleton, a small town that seems to be located in central New Jersey; he decided to run for office after selling the chain of liquor stores he inherited and expanded. Most of his constituents have gathered for the town’s first Day of Heroes celebration. The event is a sort of curative, meant to keep the third anniversary of the Sudden Departure from being too depressing.

Kevin’s wife, Laurie, is struggling to adjust to the vow of silence, and the effective life of penury, that is required by her “organization,” the Mapleton chapter of a new sect called the Guilty Remnant. Her commitment is affected by her first trainee, a lonely, vulnerable young woman named Meg who has broken her engagement to join the G.R., as the group is called.

Their son, Tom, has also separated himself from his family to join a different cult-like group. But unlike the G.R., which is growing, the Healing Hug Movement is on the verge of disbanding. Its central figure, Wayne Gilchrest, a.k.a. Holy Wayne, has been arrested on a battery of tax evasion, sexual assault and other charges.

Tom’s growing disaffection with Gilchrest and general malaise is disrupted when a teenager named Christine, Holy Wayne’s fourth “spiritual bride,” shows up at the San Francisco Healing Hug Center. “Congratulations,” Christine tells Tom. “You’re my new babysitter.” Tom finds himself drawn to the pretty young woman, despite her being pregnant with Gilchrest’s supposedly prophesied miracle child.

Read the rest of this entry »

Books in limbo: Encounters with three novels

December 3, 2012

Author’s note: The week after I originally posted this item, I added two words to the second paragraph for clarity’s sake. The added words, which follow Gary Oldman’s name, are boldfaced. Thank you for reading, digital eyeballs! MEM

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I have before me two novels by John le Carré, an author whom I love. I have in mind a third novel by Tom Perrotta, an author whose work I’ve greatly enjoyed.

Le Carré (real name is David Cornwell) is a British author, born in 1931, who worked during his 20s and part of his 30s as a teacher and as a diplomat with ties to British intelligence. He is probably best known for his novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, about the hunt for a traitor at the highest levels of the British espiocracy. It was adapted as a television miniseries starring Alec Guinness in 1989 and as a feature film starring Gary Oldman in 2011. Le Carré’s had many other best-selling novels, several of which have also been made into movies.

Perrotta is an American writer, born in 1961, whose ethnic background I’ve seen described as Albanian-American and Italian-American. He has taught creative writing. He’s probably best known as the author of the 1998 novel Election, about a high school campaign, which was made the following year into a popular film starring Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick. (The book was inspired by the three-way presidential campaign among Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot in 1992.) Another of Perrotta’s novels, Little Children, was released as a film in 2006.

So what could these three novels by these two very different men possibly have in common? Let me answer that question in a roundabout way. Read the rest of this entry »

The journey can be more enjoyable than the destination in Will Self anthology

July 8, 2012

There’s no question that Will Self is an able writer, but his 1998 collection of short fiction never quite came together for me as a reader.

Tough, Tough Toys for Tough, Tough Boys has eight stories in all. A pair, including the eponymous work, revolve around the dissolute, philandering psychologist Bill Bywater. Another pair, which bookend the anthology, concern drug-dealing London brothers.

These four stories were my favorite in the book, especially “Tough, Tough Toys for Tough, Tough Boys.” (It appears immediately before its companion piece, “Design Faults in the Volvo 760 Turbo: A Manual,” despite occurring at a later time.) “Tough Toys” describes Bywater’s epic single-day drive from the northern coast of Scotland to London.

The psychologist is both methodical and reckless. In the morning, he checks his fluid levels and repaired engine; then he lights a blunt and takes a large gulp of whisky from “‘the car bottle’ as he jocularly styled it — to himself” immediately before pulling on to the road. Read the rest of this entry »

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