I came to The Leftovers via the HBO series that launched last year. It took a lot of shit – most, I think, because it involves a central mystery that none of the characters are trying to solve – but I really liked it. It was dark, kind of funny in a creepy way, and seemed like a more interesting take on the “Left Behind” phenomenon. I decided the book would be a good way to pass the time on my recent long journey to Cambodia. Naturally, the book is not the TV show and vice versa, but it’s interesting to contrast the two.
The most glaring difference is that the main character, Kevin Garvey, is the mayor of the small town in the book, whereas he’s been made the police chief in the TV show. While that does let him be a bit more proactive with the town’s simmering conflicts, it robs the show of a character who is really doing his best to move the town past the trauma of the departure (a prime example of what a military history prof once referred to as the “Chamber of Commerce mentality).
Which is important, because it allows the Guilty Remnant cult to make a whole lot more sense. On the show they’re always talking about not forgetting, but it doesn’t look like anybody is. The book has a little more forward momentum, which makes the GR’s focus more logical. They manage to come off as less aggravating but more purely evil on the page, however.
Another idea that gets much more developed is the charismatic Holy Wayne, including his rise and fall. To be honest, that whole part of the TV show never really jelled, but it makes much more sense here. Wayne comes off less as a truly supernatural healer and more of a New Agey con man who leaves a trail of hurt in his wake.
But overall, what struck me about the book is that it’s funnier than the show. Not in a knee slapping “this is really hilarious!” kind of way, but just in the tone Tom Perrotta uses. It comes off more as wry observation, as opposed to dark foreboding. It’s enjoyable, which isn’t something I’d say about the show, no matter how much I like it.
The real question is where does the show go next? The first season basically tracks the book, so the show runners are on their own as they go into the future. Maybe with a little more freedom to explore their own creation they’ll find some of the lighter tone from the book.