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The end is near — now what?

bookWhen the novel, The Leftovers came out several years ago, it was an immediate success. (Oprah gave it a significant boost in sales and the fact that America was in the midst of a kind of apocalyptic  fervor at the time certainly helped.) The heart of this novel concerns a mysterious “rapture” that has snatched thousands of people from their “earthly existence.” Not only are those who are left behind bewildered; they are also puzzled since there seems to be no logic ... no “common denominator. “ Christians, Buddhists, atheists, Russians, Chinese, children (even a fetus), the elderly, alcoholics, nuns and convicted murders — all simply vanish in an instant. Where did they go?

Although the total number represented approximately 2 percent of the earth’s population, the survivors brace for the aftermath. What next? Would more people vanish? Would the dreaded prophecies in the Book of Revelations (called the “tribulations”) begin? Was the fact that the majority of humanity was still here ... a punishment?

Tom Perrota does a masterful job of capturing the psychological impact of this mysterious variation of the rapture on the people in the small town of Mapleton, N.Y. Gradually the people undergo significant changes. The schools close for a while and some businesses falter. Matt Jamison, the local minister becomes obsessed with the idea that the “departed” were all seriously flawed and publishes a newsletter that reveals their sins … and the church membership is drastically reduced. A group of citizens who are affected by the loss of family members form a religious group that they call “The Guilty Remnant” which requires its members to dress in white, smoke cigarettes and communicate only with written notes. As time passes, the Guilty Remnant increases its membership and the rules become more severe.

When The Leftovers begins, three years have passed and the town is attempting to return to a normal routine. The schools have reopened but the lives of the citizens have altered. Kevin Garvey, the major of the town, is making a concerted effort to help the town heal, but he has lost his own wife who has joined the Guilty Remnant. His son, Tom, has dropped out of college and has become a follower of a “latter-days prophet” named Holy Wayne. His teenage daughter, Jill, has become a part of the drug culture that flourished after the “departure.” Jill has also acquired a friend that now lives with the Garveys — an attractive teenager who seems to have designs on Kevin. Now that his wife is gone, Kevin has become attracted to Nora Durst, a woman who has lost her entire family to the “departure” (a husband and two children). Nora is a little “unstable” and has recently bought a gun.

Kevin finds that conflicts between the members of the Guilty Remnant and the local residents are increasing since the religious group has begun to follow people about as they attempt to return to their normal routines. Apparently, their purpose is to see that the town of Mapleton “does not forget the departed.” This activity, which resembles stalking, results in physical confrontations. 

Due to the novel’s growing popularity, HBO decided to turn The Leftovers into a series. The adaptation has been the subject of both positive and negative response as it quickly become apparent that the television version make some major changes, noting that film could explore some exciting aspects of the basic plot, including a second season. The HBO version attracted a large audience, including readers of the novel who followed the weekly episodes. It immediately become apparent that the readers were highly skeptical about the changes in the novel’s original themes and said so.

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Who orchestrated these changes? Well, if you remember the creator of “Lost,” Danto Lindelof, be advised that he, in conjunction with Tom Perrotta, is in charge of revising and expanding the plot of the series. Lindelof readily admits that the emphasis will be on action (violence) and personal relationships (sex). Based on his comments, it will be a weird mix.

Many of the major changes in the script concern the novel’s protagonist. Kevin Garvey is no longer the mayor since HBO felt he should be “more directly involved in the action.” Kevin became the sheriff. In addition, he is no longer the stable anchor of both his family and the community. (He is afflicted by blackouts and sometimes cannot remember where he has been). Kevin also acquires a mentally unstable father (and former chief of police) who burns the local library and is confined in a mental institution. He repeatedly escapes to warn Kevin of mysterious pending disasters that can be avoided if Kevin would only read a special issue of the National Geographic. He also confides that “they are sending you help.” They? Who? No kidding.

Perhaps the most alarming change was the introduction of a “supernatural” element. The town’s dogs become dangerous and travel in packs and one of the town’s residents becomes known as “the dog killer.” A sinister character becomes a deputy and makes repeated references to his position as Kevin’s “guardian.” Patti, the leader of the Guilty Remnant, seems to have a hidden agenda, and when one of the cult’s members turns up dead (stoned to death), there is a disturbing possibility that Patti has decided that the Guilty Remnant needs a martyr, and as the plot becomes more convoluted, it becomes evident that she may volunteer for the role herself. There is also a confusing episode that concerns a maverick deer that is running amok in Mapleton and has done considerable damage.

The HBO version has expanded the cast, freely adding characters who do not exist in the novel. Kevin’s son, Tom acquires an absentee father, making Kevin his stepfather. Rev. Jamison acquires an invalid wife and a sister. Holy Wayne evolves into a kind of religious messiah with a collection of earthly wives, one of which will bear the “Savior of the World.” Wayne is scheduled to die in a hail of bullets when the FBI storms his compound. The selected “holy mother” is a young drug addict named Christine, and to bring everything full circle, Tom, her guardian and protector, decides to bring her back to Mapleton (along with her child, which Christine no longer wants.

Frankly, the plot is even more complex than I have indicated, and at present, it looks like it will stagger into another season. Morbid curiosity may provide it with a generous audience. I am almost ashamed to admit it, but I will be on hand for every episode. You have heard this judgment before, but, alas, here it is again — the book is better than the movie.

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