“Leave the World Behind” by Rumaan Alam
“Ruth had learned only one thing from the current reality, and it was that everything held together by tacit agreement that it would. All it took to unravel something was one party deciding to do just that. There was no real structure to prevent chaos. There was only a collective faith in order.”
The unknown is a compelling place from which to start a vacation novel. Amanda and Clay are exiting the city of New York for a quiet vacation with their teenage children, an escape from the rush of careers and schools. They choose a remote cabin, a means of leaving the world behind. But with that choice comes the repercussions of no one to contact when the world seemingly goes black. Rumaan Alam writes suburban family life in a way that resonates, the highs of privilege and the lows of inadequate connection with those we love. Amanda and Clay are struggling to find themselves in a marriage gone stale over time, to locate the children who’ve morphed into adults before their very eyes. The vacation is a chance to be a family again, away from the distractions that inevitably pull families apart.
The opening meanders slowly, as Alam details the initial moments of a typical vacation. The food is gathered, the bad habits are exposed, the family strife starts to unravel. In trying to reconnect, we see how disconnected they’ve all become. When cell phone service and TV connection stalls, the family assumes the remoteness is to blame. But when an elderly black couple Ruth and G.H. knocks in the middle of the second night, claiming to be the home’s owners and asking to stay, Amanda and Clay become suspicious. They claim the city is experiencing a blackout, that they drove directly to their second home for refuge. Irritated by their vacation being interrupted and scared of what has transpired back in New York, Amanda and Clay begrudgingly welcome the couple in.
What transpires has the eeriness of a post-apocalyptic novel without the apocalypse exposed. We know something ominous is happening, but like the families, we remain unaware. Unexplained occurrences shift the focus from impending doom to immediate concerns. Amanda and Clay fumble through this new reality, as Ruth and G.H. navigate their home being temporarily possessed by strangers. Themes of race and class complicate the disaster novel, and the pages turn quickly as readers rush to understand what is happening and if the families will survive. Alam blends subtle comedy with the panic of the unknown, a timely novel to debut amidst the unknown of the past year.
“It was like some tacit agreement; everyone had ceded to things just falling apart.”