Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

I had high hopes, not just because of the National Book Award nomination but because the premise has a lot of potential — but like so many contemporary novels, it was so dominated by the “issues” it addresses that it truly lacked in character, and for me, that’s fatal.

There’s a sense I get when the author is describing a character’s flaws, or inaccurate self-perception, or delusions, or shame, that the author thinks he fully understands it, and it’s relatively simple, but the character doesn’t see it. And that kind of contempt-for-character is very off-putting for me.

Here, we have a modern well-off white family renting a vacation house, and the house’s owners show up, explaining there is some kind of unknown but potentially apocalyptic emergency unfolding in the city. There’s no TV, internet, or cell service, and it unfolds from there. But it uses a bizarre omniscient narration style, jumping from person to person even within a chapter or scene and telling us what characters are thinking and why, with a level of judgment that just doesn’t work for me. Sure, tell us what each person is experiencing, but we don’t need all the commentary. And we don’t need the speeches about race, gender roles, parenting, and human nature. This book is a sledgehammer when I’d prefer a bird gently landing, watching, wondering.

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