Doomsdays throughout time
September 23rd, 2011
06:00 AM ET

Novel explores ‘The Leftovers’ after the Rapture

By Todd Leopold, CNN

(CNN) - Stories of the Rapture usually come accompanied with the operatic drama of bright lights, doomy thunder and the echoing hoofbeats of the Four Horsemen as the world awaits the inevitable apocalypse.

Author Tom Perrotta prefers a little quiet.

In his new novel “The Leftovers” (St. Martin’s), the bestselling author of “Little Children” and “Election” follows a group left behind after something called the “Sudden Departure,” a Rapture-like event in which millions of people suddenly vanished like smoke.

Kevin Garvey is the mayor of Mapleton; his family was left physically intact but psychologically frayed. Nora Durst, on the other hand, lost her husband and children and still hasn’t recovered.

Some characters retreat into cult-like groups. One group, the Guilty Remnant, haunts the living and awaits the end; another, the Holy Wayners, is led by a charismatic hugger who loses his bearings.

Author Tom Perrotta.

Then there’s a local preacher, Matt Jamison, who insists that what happened couldn’t be the Rapture because it claimed flawed humans of all faiths and ethnicities. “I should’ve been first in line,” he insists, while compiling dossiers of the departed’s faults.

Listen to a clip of the audiobook, courtesy Macmillan Audio:

Perrotta talked to CNN about the book, his own faith and putting himself in others’ shoes. Here’s an edited transcript of the interview.

You grew up a Catholic. Are you religious?

I’m not religious but am extremely interested in religion. I went through a brief phase of being intensely religious as a kid, but by the time I was maybe 13 or 14, religion no longer played a big part in my life.

One of the things I’ve been fascinated by the more I’ve delved into evangelical culture is how consuming a religious commitment is. I grew up where it was one part of life – it didn’t pervade your entire existence.

Your last couple of books have had religious themes. Why are you so interested in the subject?

I approached [my previous book] “The Abstinence Teacher” through a political lens. I was really interested in the American culture war, which five or six years ago was a kind of consuming part of the political landscape.

I remember that feeling around George W. Bush’s reelection was the sense that the election was going to hinge on people’s views about gay marriage in Ohio.

And here I was living in Massachusetts, gay marriage was legal, people I knew had no problem, the sky hadn’t fallen – and I remember this as a constant question people were posing: Who are these devout Christians? And I thought it was one of the jobs of the novelist is to know who their fellow citizens are.

So I approached it from there and tried to immerse myself in the Bible and Christian culture and follow this one character’s journey from the inside.

Did that lead to “The Leftovers?”

In the course of a lot of reading I kept bumping up against this end times Rapture scenario. And this is not something Catholics buy into. I think I didn’t even hear about it until college. I was reading a book about fundamentalist religion in Texas when I first heard of the Rapture. It was such an amazing image, and such a poetic image, that it stuck with me all these years.

Another point was, I was very taken with the specificity of the scenario. The Rapture would happen, I would presumably be left behind and there would be a seven-year period of tribulation for Jesus’ second coming and the millennium.

And I kept thinking, “Seven years is a long time.” Especially in this culture.

So one of my thoughts was maybe three or four years in, some people would have forgotten. And other people would be, rightly, just focused on the past and on remembering and making sense of this big thing that happened. And I felt that, in this little joke I made to myself – seven years later, nobody would remember – was some truth about these human impulses. One is to remember and make sense, and the other is to forget and move on.

So that’s really what this book is about. It’s not a theological argument with apocalyptic theology. It’s a book about how we remember, how we forget, how we move on. It’s also about the way that trauma inspires intensely religious reactions.

Why is it so hard for us to let go, to enjoy life? Is it our deep-seated religious guilt that prompts these evangelical movements?

I don’t know. I think most of us set ourselves on a path, and we don’t like to get knocked off. I think that’s why the story of St. Paul is such a great one – that you have to get hit by lightning to change. I think a lot of us feel that we have a life that we like, and adding anything that intrudes on that is a problem.

I still have this vivid memory of 9/11 – I was writing a story for this magazine in New York. I was working closely with this editor and I got the news and I e-mailed, “Are you OK?” He e-mailed back, “Fine here. Where’s that rewrite?” It was like, I’m going to pretend this didn’t happen.

Do you have a sympathy for people who think we’re in the end times?

I’m sympathetic with the need for clarity – who we are, what we’re doing, where we’re going to go, what death means. What I’m not so sympathetic with is that sense that some of us are going to get rewarded and lots of other people are going to get punished.

To the extent that somebody takes pleasure in that, that’s a problem for me, in the same way someone might welcome a war in the Middle East because that signals some movement toward the end times.

Seems kind of selfish...

And I’m no expert on Christianity, but one of the interesting things about Jesus is how he constantly works against anyone’s assumption of moral superiority. So Christians who assert moral superiority and certitude about their own election will always seem to be in some sense setting themselves up for a fall, because Jesus was always uncomfortable with people who did that.

Did writing this change any of your thoughts about the Rapture?

The reason it has so much power to me is that it’s such an amazing metaphor for the way life is. As we get older people start disappearing from our lives. That, to me, was the leap that made the book possible. We are all left behind. We’re not left behind in the way the end times scenario envisions, but we’re all living with the absences of all kinds of people – not just people we loved, but people who sat next to us in school or worked across the hall. But we keep going, because that’s what we have to do.

What’s your vision of God? Do you have one?

I don’t, though it’s hard for me to believe in a God who’s personally interested in the fates of every one of us, because the fates of so many innocents are so terrible. I know there are theologians who will explain that away to me, but it never sticks.

But you do believe in God?

I consider myself agnostic because I’m never quite comfortable with a story that says we’re some accidental combination of gases and all this emerged. I guess I haven’t heard the story yet that makes complete sense to me, from scientists or religious people.

Have you gotten any personal e-mails or letters about "The Leftovers?"

I’ve just started to get a few people who say they’re praying for me. I think there are going to be some people who are going to see the cover, see the name, see the Rapture and assume that this is, in effect, Christian fiction.

Religion feels like it clearly came out of a world – it was a tribal world, it was a local world. If you think about a world in which there was fire or calamity or flood, that’s our everyday world. And that was part of it. It’s always end times in a global, media-connected world.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Books • Christianity • End times

soundoff (481 Responses)
  1. Macdaddy

    I read this article a month or so ago....CNN reruns?!? Slow news day.

    September 23, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  2. Vic

    It is so SIMPLE but we lived in such a complicated world that the word SIMPLE does not exist. Jesus was a SIMPLE man and what he preached was SIMPLE, at the same time he spoke and told us everything we need to know and yet is so hard for all of us people to follow and it comes back to the same word "SIMPLE"- HE CAME ONCE AND WILL BE BACK TO FINISH GOD'S PLAN FOR THIS EARTH.

    September 23, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Well then, why are all these people making such a big deal out of all this? We should just sit back and relax, its all in His hands.

      September 23, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  3. Eric

    People who believe in the rapture are morons. Don't get me wrong; I too wish that God would make all of them disappear. But as somebody who has read the book of revelation and knws that the rapture DOES NOT EXIST and that the Bible clearly says to not add or take away from the BOR, I suspect that when it does happen they will be raptured to hell where they belong. These are the same people who think it's cool to bomb muslims in the name of Jesus. Ya, Jesus is down with killing children. Right...go drink your flouride water and leave christianity to those without an extra chromosome. Seriously, please for the sake of Jesus, shutup.

    September 23, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  4. hippypoet

    how about some history on why gods.
    answer – to explain the world around us.
    and now, why is this or that god the "one true god" instead of a gods family outting where they all get together and have a BBQ.
    every "god" argues for themselves, duh! so of course yours told you that it was the one true god, what reason would a god of many have to tell you that they were a lesser god and to go off and find a better one? the creation of a god figure makes complete sense but after thought enters the scene all gods go out the window. for any and all powers that are given to gods by man have been explained by science or just seems to be explainible by a scienific view therefore the change from many gods to one is a natural thing... the one god does other things not found in the others... the offering of a sweet after life – again, a natural progression of thought as a god figure would be needed. see the first question about death was why they died, then where they go, then is it a nice place... and all questions get answered thru the gods created at that time and there powers over man and nature.

    September 23, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • mack

      "why gods" is also a convenient excuse for those who simply can't accept not knowing. they also can't grasp the notion that perhaps they're not owed an answer on any of this. if it simply goes black at death, who cares? quit worrying and live your life.

      September 24, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  5. AtheistSteve

    I find it interesting that ideas once accepted as true can sometimes be totally overturned by simply changing your point of reference. "Nature abhors a vacuum" was demonstrably true until we realized that being submerged at the bottom of an ocean of air the default state of most of the universe was incredibly difficult to achieve or maintain. Vacuum is the norm not the exception. Thus gravity might possibly be described as "matter abhors space-time" because if you gather enough matter in one place it bends space-time and in the most extreme case (black hole) collapses into a singularity effectively leaving behind the universe all together. hmmm...I wonder.

    September 23, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  6. Sarah Stroud

    Ummm...I'm going to respond to the author's false claim that Jesus discouraged moral superiority. Mr. Perrotta, the bible is a great book. It's a best seller. Read it sometime.

    Jesus said:
    John 14:6 - Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

    Matthew 7:13-14: - “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

    Matthew 18:7 - Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!

    Matthew 25:41 Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

    Luke 10:10-13 - But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.

    September 23, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Sarah

      I'll add Luke 13:22-28

      September 23, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  7. Bo

    @Patricia, do you also believe in science a d the Bible? I mean, science may catch up with the Bible

    September 23, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • ThinkForYourself

      Really? Science is going to find out one day that there's been a global flood, when its already shown that there wasn't? Science is going to prove that people live for hundreds of years, that bushes and snakes can talk, that water can turn into wine, that the earth is a circle, not a sphere, that evolution didn't happen, that the entire universe was created in a few days, and that daylight came before the moon? I won't be holding my breath.

      September 23, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • Jose San Antonio

      It's science what brought our technology of today. Your Ipad, if you own one, flat panel screen t.v., microwave, etc. If we all live by faith, we should be communicating telepathically. We don't need all these gadgets and gismos what we have now. When you get sick do you pray for healing? or run to the hospital for treatment? If we are created by image of God, why so many cancer patient children? what's the point of them being born and to die in early such an early age? why so many denominations if we are reading the same book? And who are gene pool generations of today that are direct descendant of the 12 disciples? If Jesus Christ played a big rule during the Roman Times, how come he is not mentioned in the European History book?

      September 24, 2011 at 1:03 am |
  8. Caliban

    Seems to me like someone trying to cash in on the current 2012 end of days BS. Not to mention he says he is agnostic so not as to completely isolate any potential buyers of his drivel. I can appreciate a fanciful story (suspension of disbelief) but these types of stories only seem to prey on people's fears to get their money.

    September 23, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  9. joseph m. ott

    i am a roman catholic who has b.a. and m.a. in psychology and religion and yes i believe there will be no final rapture like in the bible i believe that religion and spiritual life is important it doesnt matter what religion you are we all have different perspective believe in god because there is a god in my view i think this book would be a great read but not agree with it everyone have a blessed day and believe in god the father son and holy spirit or the god of your own choice

    September 23, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • MarkinFL

      I choose to believe in the FSM. Is that OK?

      September 23, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • AtheistSteve

      I believe your BA and MA were entire wastes of money if you never learned to use punctuation.

      September 23, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  10. skimmer21

    All people need to do is study the history of the Jews. Without God the world have removed them from the earth thousands of years ago. It is very clear that the Jews are under Gods protection or they would not be here. The Jews are hated by every race on the planet except Christians.

    September 23, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • tvugly

      You are dumb.

      September 23, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • MarkinFL

      some Christians......

      September 23, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • GodPot

      Right!! It's so obvious, why didn't i think of that!! The fact that a racial group of people still exists that existed over 3000 years ago is plainly showing us who God's chosen people are. Doh!! But that would mean that any other group of people that existed back then and still exist today MUST be God's chosen people right? Well I better go brush up on my Hindu & Buddhist teachings since they are obviously also inspired by God, I mean how could they still exist if they weren't?...

      September 23, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • YeahRight

      "It is very clear that the Jews are under Gods protection"

      Huh, then why did he allow the Nazis to kill so many of them in some of the most brutal ways possible.

      September 23, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      God is an iron.

      September 23, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  11. Bo

    @AtheistSteve, Hi! Because of space and time, could you refer to the 10:19 post sent to "Think..." about the BB theory. O' by the way, you didn't mention, that the BB therory breakes the laws of physics, and wasn't I that said it was impossiable; it was scientists; up until a few weeks ago, I thought the BB was possiable. As for the scriptures, did you know that with all the modern transalations there has only been found 57 minor errors found when compared to the Dead Sea Scrolls. History has shown because of the maticulus copy work and strict rules for mistake finding of the scriptures that historians agree that the Hebrew scriptures are accurate.and I forget right now,but the OT written by about 55 men and they are all in agreement. It is your God given right to choose to accept or deny them. In my first post today I gave my several reasons for accepting them as truth. You can check out bigfoot and Nessy if you wish, I have no interest And extrestrail alliens would fit in better with atheist. Out'a room.

    September 23, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • MarkinFL

      The aliens will be perfectly fine with atheists as soon as they land and announce themselves. We hold them in the same vein as a god except they are gazillion times more likely to exist, we just seriously doubt that they have come here to molest our rural citizens.

      September 23, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • GodPot

      So your not saying our rural citizens aren't being molested, they just aren't being molested by aliens... makes sense to me.

      I think from a religious view any creature that is not us but is infatuated with a n a l probing must be a demon...

      And the Nephilim were just the offspring of alien & human coupling, producing an alien hybrid race that ruled the planet for thousands of years before the flood. It's just so obvious, except for the missing fossil record of any angel/human hybrid species and or "giants" as Genesis claims.

      September 23, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • AtheistSteve


      "you didn't mention, that the BB therory breakes the laws of physics"

      Well thanks for demonstrating how little you understand cosmology. The Big Bang theory does no such thing. What does happen is at the very earliest points in time after the Big Bang the Laws of Physics are insufficient to accurately model the conditions present. No Laws are broken but the math can't deal with values that approach zero or infinity. It is a case where our current mathematical models break down ...not the physical Laws themselves. It is the same as the problem faced when trying to reconcile General Relativity with Quantum Physics into a unified Theory of Everything. At the quantum scale incorporating the practical zero quanti.ty of gravity remains problematic.
      Nice try though...

      September 23, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  12. BW

    What a load of FICTION. Christians who actually believe in a secret rapture are so deluded. The history of this supposed secret rapture is easily traced back to two Jesuit priests, Francisco Ribera and Ignatious Loyola, who were commissioned by Rome to thwart the Protestant Reformation on the late 1500's. They introduced this unbiblical theory and the reformers literally laughed at it, yet today many protestants have bought into this "second chance" idea. 'Sola Scriptura' was Martin Luther's claim. Protestants should try it today! 1Thess 4:13-18 is a good place to start–to START...don't stop there!

    September 23, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • Rob

      BW said:

      'Sola Scriptura' was Martin Luther's claim. Protestants should try it today!

      Rob responded to (Catholic) BW:

      Amazing BW ... I couldn't have penned a better version of true "revisionist history." First, Martin Luther was a German Catholic priest when he discovered the REAL BIBLE TRUTH while translating the Catholic Latin Vulgate writings into his native German tongue. What the Vatican had chosen to "hide from people" for centuries, Martin Luther exposed rather quickly; thus, he not only became an excommunicated priest, he became a true enemy of the Vatican; and thus, an initial catalyst for the "Protesting Movement" against the Vatican (that is why they were originally called the Protesters; thus the name Protest-ants). The Vatican is the sole reason for the term the "Dark Ages" ... a "specific period" of time before Martin Luther found out the Truth of God, hidden from the masses, by Rome. Papal Rome (by choice) "hid" the Truth of God from everyone under its control, so that they "could be" in control – over all the kings and kingdoms; aka: control "Over the Kings of the Earth." In the Vatican's "Piano Nobile" Library in Rome, you can witness all of the "frescos" that tell the complete story of the extreme control "Over the Kings of the Earth"... it isn’t a "hidden secret."

      As for trying to say that somehow, Martin Luther was a "Catholic hero"... you are historically in error. Though he (ML) started out as a Catholic and priest, like many of us today; after finding out the Truth behind the harm that the papacy has done to billions of its followers over a period of 1-1/2 millennia, we all have left to follow God, through His Son Jesus (that is the basis behind the Protest-ant Reformation).

      Now, please read in the Book of Revelation, in Chapters 17 and 18; see what God intends to do to this (so-called) Christian Religion that has at its hierarchy level, chosen to follow man, rather than God. She is dressed in purple (Bishops) and scarlet (Cardinals and the Pope); carrying a golden cup (a chalice); is involved over the “Kings of the Earth” (Via the UCC – Uniform Commercial Code); and “sits upon many waters” (is active in many nations); and is located in a City built on 7 Hills (the 7 Hills of Rome). Now read how the Vatican proposes to “fool God” when he comes around to destroy her soon: it is found in the “secret” bilateral agreement termed – “The Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel,” which the Israeli government signed with the Vatican, on Dec. 30, 1993. I hope many are set free before it is too late.

      September 27, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  13. frankbear

    I think we should make the prediction of December 2012 come true. We could join in a world-wide beginning of a new era of World Peace and Renewal of our committment to save the earth from our own destruction by making changes in our daily lives. All Religions could come together and proclaim and oath that all life is precious and killing is not an option for anyone. Change the rules of how we should live our lives from this day forward and that would end the old world and begin a NEW WORLD!

    September 23, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • MarkinFL

      You have just described the only thing with a lower probability than a god!

      The closest you could come is to pretty much kill every single person on the planet. THEN and only then would we all be as one.

      September 23, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  14. DD

    Pretty much (badly) covered by the Left Behind series.

    September 23, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  15. may

    Jesus reminds us in the Bible that we will not know the day or the hour, not even the Angels in Heaven know. God alone knows, we are just to live our lives according to God's plan, and leave the end up to Him.

    September 23, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Works for me. I do not worry about the end of the world as caused by a god. Not much use in that anyway. On the other hand we can worry about our physical world and do what we can to preserve it from being completely trashed.

      September 23, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • tvugly

      Oh. Okay. Well that settles it then... *sigh*

      September 23, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  16. Reality

    From p. 1:

    What we do know:

    1. The Sun will burn out in 3-5 billion years so we have a time frame.

    2. Asteroids continue to circle us in the nearby asteroid belt.

    3. One wayward rock and it is all over in a blast of permanent winter.

    4. There are enough nuclear weapons to do the same job/winterizing.

    5. Most contemporary NT exegetes do not believe in the Second Coming so apparently there is no concern about JC coming back on an asteroid or cloud of raptors/rapture.

    6. All stars will eventually extinguish as there is a limit to the amount of hydrogen in the universe. When this happens (100 billion years?), the universe will go dark. If it does not collapse and recycle, the universe will end.

    Bottom line: our apocalypse will start between now and 3-5 billion CE. The universe apocalypse, 100 billion years?

    September 23, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • .........

      spam alert do not read hit report abuse on all reality posts

      September 23, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  17. Science Prevails

    Didn't they already cover this in Left Behind? Also that same series spawned a hilariously bad video game.

    September 23, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  18. spijder

    Wow, just wow to his reply to question 7 in the interview. I was wondering what he was talking about mentioning the metaphor of it earlier in the article, but that paragraph cleared all that up. It almost makes me understand why some people would believe or want to believe in the rapture.

    September 23, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  19. Joseph

    Did this post-apocalyptic book contain a group of secular humanists that set about restoring civilization, preserving knowledge, and using reason instead of blind fear or blind conviction to plan for the future? That might be a book worth reading, and a lesson for dealing with today's problems.

    September 23, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  20. J

    That people base their lives on basically guessing the end date is absurd. Just live your life.

    September 23, 2011 at 11:22 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.