by Tom Perrotta
What if millions of people simply vanished? When this actually happens, the bewildered citizens of Mapleton have to come to terms with the disappearance of friends, family, and neighbors and decide how to go on with life. As Mayor, Kevin Garvey needs to harness the desperation, hopes, and fears of his town even as those left behind struggle with severe psychological trauma.
1. What is The Leftovers about? Is this a religious, or anti-religious, book. Is it even about religion? If not...what is it about?
2. In what ways does the world change after the Sudden Departure. What affect does it have on those left behind—both devout Christians and those not so devout? How does the departure differ from the The Rapture? What about a possible parallel with the events of 9/11—do you see any overtones of what the US went through in the aftermath of that national trauma?
3. Talk about the various groups that spring up—the Barefoot People, the Guilty Remnant. In what way are their formations a response to the Sudden Departure?
4. If the Sudden Departure occured in real life, today, how do you think our society would react? How would you, or your family, react if a loved one departed? Would it the disappearances be a good thing, if you're a Christian, or difficult thing to cope with?
5. Is Perrotta's novel humorous or sad—a comedy or tragedy? Is it a satire?
6. Discuss Laura's decision to pull back from her budding relationship with Kevin. Is she justified in doing so, particularly in light of what she discovers about her husband? Is her pain too deeply felt, or might her sadness have abated had she started a new life with Kevin?
7. How well does Perrotta depict ordinary individuals dealing with loss? Are his characters realistic, believable? Or are they cartoonish and one-dimensional?
8. What larger issues, other than the Sudden Departure (or the Rapture), might be at stake in Perrotta's novel—what might he be making a broader statement about?
Additional Questions from the Publisher
1. Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers focuses on life after a mysterious mass disappearance that may or may not have been the Rapture. How do the various characters feel about being “left behind?” Which character's view of the Sudden Departure makes most sense to you?
2. The Leftovers is set in an idyllic American suburbia—with adult softball teams, a strong school system, and beautiful leafy neighborhoods. Why do you think the author set this novel –and his other novels--in such a place? Is there something especially pleasant or idyllic about the suburbs? Or is that just a myth?
3. Jill Garvey thinks it’s easy “to romanticize the missing, to pretend that they were better than they really were.” Is this true? How do the main characters in The Leftovers view their friends and relatives who have disappeared?
4. How do you feel about Christine’s relationship with Mr. Gilchrist? Is she simply a victim of a predatory, charismatic older man who dupes her into thinking she’s someone special? Or is something more complicated going on between them?
5. Why do you think Laurie Garvey joins the Guilty Remnant? Once there, why do you think she stays? What sort of benefits might a cult-like community offer to people reeling from an event like the Sudden Departure? What about the Healing Hug Movement led by Holy Wayne?
6. What do you think of the teenagers’ sexual interactions in the book? Are they an accurate portrayal of contemporary teenage behavior? To what exent are Jill and her friends reacting to the trauma of the Sudden Departure, if at all?
7. Is Kevin Garvey a good father?
8. How would you describe the relationship between Laurie and Meg? Did you find what happens to them believable? What about the relationship between Kevin and Nora?
9. Like The Road and The Passage and many others, The Leftovers is set in a post-apocalyptic world. Why are we so fascinated by these scenarios? What sets The Leftovers apart from other novels about the end of life as we know it?
10. Perrotta describes some sectors of American society—such as television chefs—being “disproportionately hard hit” by the Sudden Departure. Is there any sector you wish could disappear?
11. What do you think the author’s opinion of religion is? What about spirituality? Are there clues in The Leftovers?
12. Discuss the ending of the book. What do you think happens to the main characters after the book is over?