What happens after a “Rapture-like event”?
Tom Perrotta’s books are deceptively easy going down — he writes in such an engaging, accessible style that you almost feel like you’re reading escapist fare … until you stop to think about what’s really happening in the novel.
Throughout his career, Perrotta has gotten more serious, from the outright satirical beginnings of “Joe College” and “Election” (basis for the fabulous Reese Witherspoon/Matthew Broderick movie) to more recent takes on contemporary adult life in “Little Children” and “The Abstinence Teacher.” Though the premise of this new novel might strike some as absurd or even gimmicky, Perrotta’s real subject here is universal and everyday: grief and how individuals cope after loss.
The loss in this book is on an astounding scale — millions of people have simply disappeared in an event called the Sudden Departure. In some ways it meets Biblical descriptions of the Rapture, except many of those taken were not particularly devout, well-behaved or even Christian. Some people try to go on as normally as possible; others lose themselves in grief and join questionable organizations like the Guilty Remnant, whose followers give up all their worldly goods, stop talking and devote themselves to shadowing nonbelievers in public. While smoking cigarettes. Others choose to follow a self-proclaimed grief absorber named Holy Wayne or join a Rainbow Family-like tribe called the Barefoot People.
Perrotta focuses most of the story on one family, the Garveys, who did not lose anyone to the Departure yet are all still rocked by its reverberations three years after the event. We come to care about each of them, though they take very different paths. Even as you wonder at their choices and take comfort in the thought that a Sudden Departure is, to say the least, highly unlikely you still think about the awesome power of grief and loss and how it can change the lives of an individual, a family or in the case here (or a broader event, like Katrina or 9/11), an entire nation.