I still have a column to finish no later than tomorrow and another due at the end of this week, but there is light at the end of my self-created tunnel and I am now comfortable with committing to reading a novel I have been drooling over since it arrived a couple of weeks ago.

Tom Perrotta’s “The Leftovers” is about what happens when The Rapture, or something very similar, occurs. As someone whose doubts about religious mythology began during the teenage years and who is embarrassed by how long he played the game (Roman Catholic division) nonetheless, I have come to the conclusion that, even for all those who accept the improbable “you gotta believe” stuff–“faith” is the thing we invented to explain away that which cannot be explained, the end of life and what happens next is the one part of the “mystery” that confounds them if they ever work up the courage to think about it in any serious way. I am intrigued to see how Perrotta deals with that aspect as this story unfolds.

The below is an edited (for space, not content) from the Prologue to The Leftovers.

And then it happened. The Biblical prophecy came true, or at least partly true. People disappeared, millions of them at the same time, all over the world. This wasn’t some ancient rumor–a dead man coming back to life during the Roman Empire–or a dusty homegrown legend, Joseph Smith unearthing golden tablets in upstate New York, conversing with an angel. This was real…

[ … ]

“Something tragic occurred,” the experts repeated over and over. “It was a Rapture-like phenomenon, but it doesn’t appear to have been the Rapture.”

“Interestingly, some of the loudest voices making this argument belong to the Christians themselves, who couldn’t help noticing that many of the people who disappeared on  October 14th–Hindus and Buddhists and Muslims and Jews and atheists and homosexuals and Eskimos and Mormons and Zoroastrians, whatever the heck they were–hadn’t accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior. As far as anyone could tell, it was a random harvest, and the one thing the Rapture couldn’t be was random. The whole point was to separate the wheat from the chaff, to reward the true believers and put the rest of the world on notice. An indiscriminate Rapture was no Rapture at all.

At the end of the prologue, a woman who has spent her entire life as an unbeliever joins her best friend (whose daughter was one of those who disappeared) as part of the Guilty Remnant, a growing band of white-clad believers who hand out cards reading

We are members of the Guilty Remnant, We have taken a vow of silence. We stand before you as living reminders of God’s awesome power. His judgement is upon us.

The novel proper starts three years after all this has happened. And I can’t wait to see where it goes.

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