Tom Perrotta's "The Leftovers", and the question of genre

Last night one of the book groups I belong to discussed Tom Perrotta's most recent novel, The Leftovers. One of the things I wanted to talk about how you can tell a science fiction writer did not write this book.

Now, I did stay away from a point like "it's too well written".  But it is really wonderful to read, sharply observed but not show-offy, and focused on really daily events. Which is part of the point, because the book takes place a couple of years after a large number of people disappeared in what the remaining people are reluctant to call The Rapture. The leftovers need to deal with the vast irrational absence, the disappearance of people they loved, or even didn't care for all that much, but who in retrospect mattered a great deal.

There are cults and obsessions, and that is definitely something a science fiction writer would focus on. But one thing that pretty much any science fiction writer would be interested in is whether the people who vanished had anything in common with each other. Was there any feature they had in common? Does anyone run the numbers? Aside for a toss-off comment about the seemingly unusually large number of TV chefs who were taken, no one seems particularly interested in the question. Aliens are never suspected.

And that's a good choice. Perrotta is interested in the Leftovers, not the Absconded. How do you live your life in the new world? That's the important question.

I just know, if I was writing this, I would start to focus too much on those who left, why, what happened, what we can learn about it, what it says about God and physics. And while that would interest the science fictional mind, it would not be the crystalline work that it is.

And I did have a Rapture-related story in mind, and it did focus on those who left, in fact about the very mechanism of their leaving. Seems silly now. But I am, after all, a science fiction writer, so I might end up writing it after all.

Meanwhile, I need to read some of his earlier books, which I know only through movies. Fun stuff. CHeck it out.