When Everything Disappeared in the Blink of an Eye
Tom Perrotta writes in a mysterious, captivating way about connections, relationships, and heartbreaking losses.
By Erica Meno
While many of you were focused on the uncharacteristically unstable weather events in 2011, such as an earthquake in August, followed by Hurricane Irene, and a snowstorm in October, by the spring of 2011, people of Mapleton, a small New Jersey suburb, were still grieving the loss of family and friends and trying to understand the rapturelike events that struck three years earlier, when millions of people vanished from the Earth. Some Christians believe that when the rapture comes, those who deeply believe Jesus to be their one an only God will vanish from their earthly state and be brought directly to heaven. Certain members of a family will vanish in the rapture, but some will still remain. Those who remain are traumatized, emotionally scarred, and forever changed as a result of watching their family members or close friends vanish right before their eyes.
Through this fictional story, Tom Perrotta writes an elaborate response to how an everyday, normal family, the Garvey family, consisting of Kevin, Laurie, and their two children, Tom and Jill, respond and react to the inexplicable rapturelike events. Together, they help each other grieve, heal, and come to terms with the events that happened and the disappearance of their friends and loved ones.
Perrotta does a very good job portraying Tom Garvey’s character as a typical college student, trying to live a normal life in the midst of all the recent events. His college life remains fairly average until he joins a fraternity, and one of his fraternity brothers informs him about Holy Wayne. At the beginning of his “career,” Holy Wayne preaches to grieving survivors and suggests coping mechanisms to them. One example is hugging them, since he claims that all their pain will be channeled from their bodies into his, and they will feel like changed people. Over time, Holy Wayne grows increasingly more popular among survivors who make him into a famous figure. Unfortunately, fame overcomes Holy Wayne. He becomes a pedophile known as the “age-old scoundrel, the Horny Man of God.” He proceeds to start the Healing Hug movement, where he impregnates one teenage girl who will give birth to the “miracle child.”
I find the next part of the book to be very chaotic, bizarre, and unnecessary. Tom runs off with the sixteen-year-old girl who Holy Wayne impregnates. Together, they join the Barefoot people, a group who believes the only way to cope with the events of the rapture is to drink, have sex, and do drugs all the time. I feel Perrotta loses his audience’s attention during this part of the book because it is written in a completely different style than the rest of the story.
Perrotta describes Laurie Garvey as the family member who is the most emotionally traumatized by the rapturelike events. She wants to start a new life, so she decides to join the post-rapture group, the Guilty Remnant. Members of this group must take a vow of silence, dress in all white, and smoke cigarettes in public. The main objective of the Guilty Remnant is to follow and watch the non-members and try to recruit them to join. Perrotta stresses that although Laurie helps herself by joining the group, she hurts her husband and daughter by leaving them. “It was better to leave well enough alone, to avoid unnecessary encounters with people you’d left behind, to not keep poking at that sore tooth with the tip of your tongue. Not because you didn’t love them anymore, but because you did, and because that love was useless now, just another dull ache in your phantom limb.” Although Kevin and Jill feel betrayed, they know they need to carry on with their lives and keep their daily routine as normal as possible.
I feel Perrotta does the best job describing Jill Garvey, “a former straight-A student with stellar SAT scores,” who goes through a complete physical and social transformation after the rapture and especially after her mother decides to join the Guilty Remnant. Perrotta describes the gravity of the situation as Jill was “failing Math and Chemistry.” Jill’s best friend, Aimee, moves in with her after the rapture occurs because Aimee needs a stable home life. Aimee influences Jill to make many poor decisions that her mother would not approve of. Jill’s physical image and social status in school significantly changed as a result of Aimee’s influence.
Perrotta also does a good job portraying Kevin Garvey’s character, who has the most responsibility. After Laurie leaves him to join the Guilty Remnant, he is left as a single parent to raise his teenage daughter and her best friend, and he is also the mayor of the town. Kevin knows he must move on from Laurie, and he becomes attracted to a woman who lost her husband and young son in the rapture. She is very emotionally damaged, which puts a large strain on their relationship.
Overall, I think this is a very good and cleverly written book by Tom Perrotta. Each chapter focuses on the story of a different member of the Garvey family. I recommend this book to a mature audience who enjoys reading about relationships between family members and to anyone who loves a mysterious novel with continuous plot twists.