Could you live in a world without your phone? Disconnected from society? How would you react if something happened that you couldn’t explain but didn’t have access to any information?
In Rumaan Alam’s newest literary fiction novel “Leave the World Behind,” he explores these various ideas, but unfortunately fails at effectively doing so.
Amanda and Clay, mother and father of children Rose and Archie, head out to a rented Airbnb house in a remote part of Long Island. They want to escape the minutiae of city life, expecting tranquility and peace. While enjoying their luxury rental with a hot tub, pool, big bedrooms and clean linens, they get an unexpected knock at the door. The strangers explain that there has been an unknown event that has happened in the city, knocking out all of the power seemingly everywhere except their rental. These strangers hunker down with Amanda and her family, but with no internet, cell phone service or TV, there is no way to know what is happening in the world. Will the family be safe with their new guests? Are they safe from one another?
This book was one that I was looking forward to for a long time, as the subject matter seemed to resonate with current events in the world, so I ordered it for my Book of the Month subscription box. Unfortunately, after reading this book, I am thoroughly disappointed. Usually, literary fiction is my favorite genre, as I never know what I am going to encounter. However, the combination of the slow-burning storyline and Alam’s difficult syntax, this novel was a hard pill to swallow.
There was so much potential here for a gripping novel, and despite what I just mentioned above, I still had to read it all the way to the end to see if the story would come together somehow, and then it just didn’t! Not only were there so many open plot lines left open and absolutely zero resolution with any character, the novel had no ending; and it wasn’t one of those endings where it can be interpreted as a cliffhanger or a possibility for a sequel, the novel just abruptly ended. I got to the last twenty pages and said to myself, “Nothing has happened, how is there only twenty pages left!” I was disappointed to say the least. It was one of the most unsatisfactory endings of a novel that I have ever read and it leaves me questioning, was that the point? This is not a debut for Alam so there is no excuse for leaving readers disappointed. If this was his first novel, this surely wouldn’t be one that leaves me looking forward to his next release.
In the leaflet of the book, the novel addresses the “complexities of parenthood, race, and class,” however, that is far from the truth. A seemingly apocalyptic event has happened and Alam decides that this is the best time to address parenthood? What a joke. There was nothing heroic in this story about the parents at all, in fact, I found myself laughing at how the parents acted throughout this novel. It felt as if there were four children in the house, not two adults and two children. As for addressing race and class, again, I find myself questioning where in the novel these were addressed. Yes, the owners of the house are African American and drive 80,000 dollar cars, but why should that come as a surprise, they worked hard for their money. Was Alam expecting me to read this as social commentary about homeowners and how it is uncommon for African Americans to own a vacation home on Long Island? This just did not make sense to me.
Alam does do a good job at getting inside of the characters heads by constantly switching viewpoints in a stream of consciousness sort of way, however, this writing style did not sit well with me. Throughout the novel, Alam teases at instances of tension, little by little, and I had no idea what was going on; and by the end, I still had no idea what was going on! I do not like ambiguous endings (in some instances it can be executed quite well) but this one was just terrible. It felt as if Alam just wrote in bizarre events to the storyline just for the sake of writing, no real point for them being included. For these reasons, I have to give this novel a 3/10. I have no doubt this will be in my top three worst books of the year. However, I strongly encourage readers to still pick up the book, because the novel might work well for some other people.
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