Monday, October 08, 2012

Some sweet oblivious antidote

The Leftovers started out as fascinating, then grew quickly (if paradoxically) boring and horrifying. The premise reminded me a bit of The Road: one day, millions of people around the world simply vanish.  Religion is thrown into question. (Was it Rapture? Why did non-Christians vanish, then?) A cult of the Disappeared emerges, as well as the myriad ways "survivors" cope with their guilt for not disappearing and their grief for loved ones who did.

Like The Road (possibly the most depressing book ever), the unexplained occurrence remains unexplained at the end of the book. The focus is more on how one town (and one family in particular) tries to get on with its life while incorporating the disappearances and the changes they have brought into its very identity.

As a snapshot of what individuals might do in the face of traumatic change and ideological upheaval, the book is rather distressing. (The mother joins  one cult, the son another, and the daughter is led astray by the stereotypical "bad crowd"of teenagers. The father --or should it be the Father?-- is the mayor of the town and tries to maintain some semblance of normality.) Curiosity slowly turns to insanity and faith evolves into fanaticism as characters join cults that have replaced traditional religion. (It's ironic, then, that the book ends with the promise of a baby who will save the world.... or maybe just the town and the sanity of a few people in it.) When you take a step back from the book, it's kind of a hilarious alternate universe; but up close, it's a creepy, uneasy scenario.

Treasure Island!!! also ran the gamut from hilarious to uncomfortable in the way it also dealt with living on the edge of sanity and reality. The reader watches as the main character, a young twentysomething, reads Treasure Island and is so inspired by the tale that she draws her own life's map based on what she interprets to be its core values: Boldness! Resolution! Independence! and Horn-Blowing!

She convinces her boyfriend to let her move in, she steals from her employer to buy a parrot, she refuses to see her therapist, she becomes obsessed with reacquainting herself with a childhood friend, she breaks up with her boyfriend and moves back in with her parents, she starts to spy on her sister... It's an awful, awkward downward spiral to watch. And all the while, she tries to use Robert Louis Stevenson's classic adventure story as a Bible of sorts to guide her through life... until her ex, her family, and her friends hold an intervention because the her obsession with the book is more than a little unnatural.

It's hard to love the protagonist, since it's hard to see past her selfish and self-destructive veneer. But the farce of her specific situation is still at times hilarious, just like The Leftovers had a note of delirium beneath the melancholy and uncertainty.

The patients are indeed ministering to themselves.

No comments: