Author: Tom Perrotta

TitleThe Leftovers

Publisher: St. Martin's Press

First things first, lest anyone be confused, The Leftovers is not the Rapture according to Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins.

In fact, about the only thing The Leftovers and Left Behind share in common is the word "left." While both books are fictional accounts of what happened after a sizable chunk of humanity left the Earth for good, their endgames really couldn't be more different. With Left Behind, the authors were aiming to point people toward a relationship with Jesus, in The Leftovers, Perrotta skips the theological debate and focuses on the foibles of human nature.

Given Perrotta's semi-snarky writing style in his previous novels including Little Children, Joe College and The Abstinence Teacher, one half expected him to take a more satirical approach since the Rapture is a particularly easy target.

And even though the details don't exactly line up with most Christians' views on the subject, let alone what the Bible has to say (in The Leftovers, a motley crew of people with varying beliefs make the cut including atheists, agnostics, Christians, etc.), he still doesn't waste energy making fun of the Rapture. Instead, he focuses on the people left behind and their respective coping techniques.

Naturally, the way these characters respond to the unexpected departure of their loved ones varies wildly. While some people slip into depression, others are completely different. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a few people freak out spectacularly, while others start cults.

These exceptional circumstances bring out the good, the bad and the ugly in mankind, and The Leftovers is like a video camera filming a documentary where even the tiniest details have significance.

While there's no doubt that Perrotta has an ear for dialogue, this odd "what if" scenario still falls flat the majority of the time. While the prologue was occasionally laugh-out-loud funny (again, one must separate your personal beliefs from the writer's to appreciate The Leftovers on any level), so much of the story is lacking any real emotion.

And considering the Event that kickstarted the story, you can't help expecting more. Not only are many of these characters extremely difficult to relate to, even on a basic human level, but there's no real payoff once you've slogged through page after page of details that don't really add anything important.

While peeling back the layers of seemingly normal suburban life is a fascinating idea that's fueled many of Perrotta's previous works, there's not much actual takeaway in what could've been an intriguing story.

What the reader is left with instead is the promise of something that's never fully realized and an ending so abrupt, you're left wondering why Perrotta ever considered writing a book with the Rapture playing a starring role in the first place.

*This review first published 9/16/2011