Book Review: Leave the World Behind

front cover of Leave the World Behind book

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

A world-shattering event occurs in this book. Unlike a Hollywood blockbuster, however, there’s no CGI special effects to wow us. The event occurs off stage.

The book’s characters (Amanda and Clay and their two kids) are vacationing in a Long Island home isolated from others. Except others knock on the door one evening. These others claim to own the house. The older married couple isn’t random, as they know Amanda’s name, who arranged this stay for her family in this Airbnb property. Amanda recognizes the gentleman’s name (G.H.) as the person with whom she communicated for this vacation stay.

Another problem: The wi-fi and cable TV stopped working in the house. So Amanda and Clay can’t verify what G.H. and his wife (Ruth) are claiming about a blackout in New York City.

The world, as advertised on the Airbnb property’s listing, has been left behind. Not all of it, since the two strangers show up on the doorstep. Good-bye, hoped-for family vacation.

The worlds for both families are thrown topsy-turvy as they try to piece together what happened — and is happening. What was that enormous sound? Why are the animals acting differently?

Instead of invading aliens or swarming zombies or crashing meteors, the tension in this story comes from more subtle sources. One: the characters trying to puzzle out the odd events. Two: the interactions among the two family groups and between the two groups.

Subtlety is the key in the previous paragraph. The book has a Shirley Jackson-type vibe of discomfort and potential danger as undercurrents. This story builds slowly and doesn’t wrap up neatly. I imagine this won’t be the cup of tea for some readers. Items are listed in the beginning, like the assortment in Clay’s car and what Amanda buys at a grocery store.

These are the things we accumulate. As are what’s in the house. The things we buy and use as we aim for comfortable lives. The good life. But how many of those things will help us when civilization crashes? Do we have the skills to survive in that event?

These — and other questions — are presented in this book. It’s more of a thoughtful exploration than a rush of action in every chapter.

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