From Cambridge, Mass: Tom Perrotta’s First Serving of The Leftovers


Lucky for all of us, this past weekend’s storm was not the great bringer of the apocalypse; but blocks and neighborhoods in and around Boston and Cambridge were still left without electricity on Tuesday, the night of Tom Perrotta’s debut reading of The Leftovers, his new novel that deals with the fallout felt by survivors of a real-life Rapture, at Porter Square Books. That said, I couldn’t shake the feeling: Am I the only person that silently (and somewhat shamefully — as an avowed agnostic, with an undergrad degree in science, no less) wondered if every major storm might bring with it the end of the world? This and other cruelly ironic, almost divinely so, things, weighed on me on the drive over: (1) My friend and photographer Kris would be going home to a dark house, and we were doing this for Electric Literature (italics mine). Coincidence? (2) And since this was the first “taste” of the novel, a book with the word “leftovers” in the title, I was hypersensitive to food metaphors. This being my first “serving” of the “Dish. Then on the bridge crossing The Charles, Kris tells me all the food in her refrigerator had spoiled. Clearly we were doomed.

1. Brookline painter Tina Feingold (she did the abstract green piece hanging behind Tom here), writer Mary Granfield, a.k.a. Tom’s lovely wife, and Beth Kantrowitz, of bk projects and co-director of Drive-By Gallery in Watertown, MA. 2. Sondra & Lily, local Perrotta fans.

Perrotta read from a section focusing on a character named Tom, who is young and disillusioned until the “Sudden Departure” comes. Afterward, he finds himself at a lecture given by a charismatic man, Holy Wayne, who lost someone too: his son. “Holy Wayne’s future uniform consisted of jeans and T-shirts and studded leather wristbands — one reporter dubbed him the ‘Bruce Springsteen of cult leaders.’”

When asked why he’d give a character the same name as himself, Perrotta said it was “for more prosaic than Freudian” reasons — i.e., mainly to save time. “I’ve wasted a lot of time trying not to use names fraught with personal connection,” he said. I guess all fiction writers are faced with readers who seek biographical, nonfictional elements in their stories. For example, if you didn’t know Perrotta was from Jersey, the Bruce shout-out might have been a tip-off. And I have to admit, it’s a guilty pleasure of mine as a reader to find these connections.

1. A view of the standing-room only crowd at Porter Square Books. 2. Chris Cooper helps with cleanup, because Academy Award winner or not, that’s just how he rolls. 3. Making it personal: Perrotta gives a Jersey shout-out in my copy of Bad Haircut. (We grew up in neighboring towns.)

Also in the crowd but not pictured was the lovely, multi-talented actor and writer (and wife of Chris Cooper), Marianne Leone. She, along with the stranger drawing court-room-like sketches of Tom and the event goers, slipped out Cinderella-like (Rapture-like?) from the bookstore before we could get photographic proof of their attendance. And pics of those sketches — damn they were cool! (Guess you’ll just have to trust me on that.)

It felt like crossing a surreal finish line when I got home, walking past the yellow police tape strung chest-high, tree-to-tree, to cordon off fallen electric lines. There were lights on inside my place. And I’m happy to report, on the way home, Kris got a video text from her husband and daughter singing: “The lights are back! The lights are back!” Hallelujah!

The Leftovers
by Tom Perrotta

— Reyna Clancy (Text) lives in Boston but was born on a commune in New Mexico and raised mostly in New York and New Jersey. She is a recent MFA graduate in fiction from Bennington College and — when she’s not playing dress up and/or arguing with her four-year-old daughter — works in biomedical publishing.

— Kristin Johnson (Photos) is a medical photographer and graphic artist at Children’s Hospital Boston and a freelance photojournalist. You can see more of her work here, and on display in September at uForge Gallery in Jamaica Plain.

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