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Read With Us: Let's Talk About It

Read With Us

Welcome to Read With Us book discussion week!

Bonny and Carole and I are each posting a different question (or questions) on our blogs today about our latest RWU book . . . Leave the World Behind. Join the discussion (which you're welcome do even if you didn't read the book).  I'll be answering your posts within the comment section for this discussion -- and you can comment on other people's comments, as well. Y'know . . . like in a real book group. (Please know . . . that because of the limitations of Typepad, I can't "layer" or "stack" the comments in my comment feed. Sorry. Bear with me.)

Let's begin. . . 

Leave the World Behind

First . . . I'd really like to know what you thought of the book. How did it make you feel? Did you like it? Do you think it deserves all the media attention and award nominations it has received since its publication last October?

Next . . . Leave the World Behind is a work of fiction, written before the COVID-19 outbreak and the societal uprisings that have shaped 2020. If you had read the novel before 2020, do you think you would have had a different response to it? If so, in what way?

Last . . . In Leave the World Behind, the families grapple with the sudden loss of communications technology --- cell phone, internet and satellite services all fail. What is your relationship to technology? Do you embrace it? Do you wish our society handled its role in our lives differently?

When I read this book, I was completely creeped out. The whole not-being-able-to-communicate (or find out what was even going on) thing just gave me the chills. When I think about how online-connected all of us are now and how much I've bought into digital-everything, it was nightmare-inducing to even think about this for me. And I'm pretty sure that reading this during the pandemic just heightened all the "creep" for me. This was certainly a book that brought out a lot of "feels."

I can't wait to hear what you think!

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Don't forget: We'll be discussing the book on Zoom tonight - 7:00 pm Eastern Time. There's still time for you to join us! Just let me know of your interest either with a comment or by sending me an email (see sidebar, above) -- and I'll send a Zoom invitation. 

 

Comments

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Juliann

Good questions Kym
If I had read this book before 2020 I would have seen it as creepy but not so real. After the year we have lived, the potential feels a bit too close. I almost stopped reading very close to the start of this book but I kept going because I of this group read. Then I found I could barely put it down because I wanted to know what would happen and I wanted it to end.
The loss of technology gave me pause too.
I am sure this will make for a very good discussion. Sorry to miss it.

Valerie

While reading this book, I couldn't help but be reminded of the Northeast Power Black Out of 2003
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northeast_blackout_of_2003
We had just returned from my mother's funeral in PA, pulled into our driveway in MI and the radio went out in the vehicle. I looked at DH and said, "that's not good". And sure enough, we were all without power for 5 days.

There wasn't the reliance on social media and telecommunications that there is today, but it was a sobering experience, coming 2 years after 9/11.

That pretty much colored my experience of reading the novel and made me critical of the author's handling of the actual situation these people are facing. As I wrote on Bonnie's blog, I think he did a great job of depicting the interpersonal and social dynamics of the two families in the household. But not such a great job with the background scenario.

Carolyn

Oh, boy...I feel like these are big questions! Glad we have airspace tonight!

At the outset, I thought the book was going to seriously GRIP me. I wanted it to be unputdownable. Instead, I felt like I kept waiting for that--but it never happened! I got frustrated with the pace at about half-way through, felt I'd been patient enough, and I'd like to think I'd have stuck with it even if it wasn't for our discussion. But I'm not so sure.

While the 'belieavability' of the distressing situation wasn't hard to buy into, the characters? They were harder to believe. By that I mean....they felt one-dimensional. I never got to know them. (Except maybe Clay.) I'll save most of this for our live talk--but I thought their actions conflicted with their statements. (The way they babied Rose didn't align with loud, screaming sex down the hall from her bedroom. Or with anyone else in the house, for that matter. As one example!)

I DO have to say I was so glad to read a novel in which the skin color of the characters played a bit of a role reversal....i.e., who owned the property, who had the supplies and cash, the complicated job title in finance, who knew how to navigate the roads, and so on.

Looking forward to the discussion tonight!

Sarah

Creeped out is a good description! I found the book deeply unsettling but also really enjoyed the writing. I think what got to me most was the not knowing what had happened. I suppose I am more reliant on technology than I'd like to admit, but I feel more comfortable knowing what it happening in the world. The loss of technology and being out in the middle of nowhere would have really made me lose my you-know-what.

Patty

I liked the book but did not like not knowing what happened and at one point the diaglog about the noise was exhausting to me! (Maybe because it was never defined...) I know for certain I would have been a bit unglued with the loss of technology in an unfamiliar surrounding. And I agree with Carolyn about the role reversal and what about Danny the builder...I found his treatment of GH very telling of what kind of person he could be.

Carolyn

You know, now that you mention Danny, Patty, I think he's actually one of the best developed characters! While he's certainly a secondary character, we see multiple sides of him--his possibly manipulative businessman side, his 'true colors' in how he treats G.H. (that hurt...it was one of the few places I felt empathy), his prioritization of his family, and what I think of as a typical American 'every [man] for himself' mentality.

As I think about smaller characters in the books--I'm curious what everyone makes of the Spanish-speaking woman Clay meets on the road. I was really hoping we'd circle back 'round to her. Since the Hamptons still had power and water, that whole interaction seemed TOO apocalyptic for the circumstances.

Kat

This book was very discomforting to me and like Carolyn, I really disliked some of the characters... very much. It was also not very believable... I think if some kind of major disaster occurred (on the scale that this book hinted at) I find it impossible to believe that no one would know. I found the inability to communicate really the most upsetting...my phone is my lifeline with my family. I don't even want to imagine the reality of that! I am eager for our discussion tonight!

Kym

Response to Kat's comment:
I don’t really care for dystopian novels because I don’t like the scenarios that pop up when writers start asking . . . What if???? As in . . . what if the power grid went down all across the East Coast? I’d rather not think about it. . . But in terms of believability? I think it’s totally believable. Or, at least, the basic premise is believable. Because . . . if you take out our means of communication (internet, TV, radio), how would we find out what was going on? How would authorities communicate the details to us? I think the most disturbing part of the novel for me was how much we lose if the power grid is interrupted. It’s terrifying. (When the utility crisis was happening in Texas recently, many people had no way of knowing what was happening or what they could do about it. Although updates were being broadcast, without electricity or cable or cell service, many people just couldn’t access the information.)

This book just totally gave me the creeps. It was so . . . effective . . . at building uncertainty and claustrophobia and an atmosphere of doom. I didn’t like the characters either, but I think the author did a great job showing how people with everything to lose . . . go into denial when it looks like they are on the verge of losing everything.

Kym

Response to Patty's comment:
It was definitely unnerving to read and not know what was really going on! A lot of times, “the reader” of a novel knows more than the characters, but not in this one! (Well, that’s not entirely true. Because we did know that Bad Things were happening in the larger world. But we didn’t really know what or why. . . )

As far as Danny the builder? I think he represents the folks who will take care of “their own” when the world crumbles in chaos. . . He’s prepared. But he’s not going to share!

Kym

Response to Juliann's comment:
I know that if I’d read the book BEFORE the pandemic, I would have found it far less “believable” somehow. But now, after seeing that even in the US we can totally botch a response to a pandemic, it seems like . . . okay, then. Maybe it could be this bad. I thought the author did a tremendous job at building an atmosphere of uncertainty, claustrophobia, and doubt. Oh . . . and reminding us how very dependent we are on technology!

Kym

Response to Valerie's comment:
I agree . . . I think the author did a great job with two things. First, I think he really did capture how in-denial and hungry-for-information the characters would be in this situation. Second, I think he did a masterful job building an atmosphere of foreboding and doom. I was totally creeped out by this book. (And I remember the blackout - although we were lucky and only lost our power for several hours.)

Kym

Response to Carolyn's comment:
There was sure an awful lot going on in such a short book! I think there wasn’t really a chance for much character development, although I do think the author gave us an interesting glimpse at what people living through an uncertain and very weird event might do/act like — especially when they couldn’t actually SEE any evidence of said event. (Well. Except that noise.) The kids saw evidence, but the adults were blind to it, and were unable to “process" given that they had no source of outside information. I also think the author did a great job at building an atmosphere of claustrophobic doom and the unnerving uncertainty.

Kym

Response to Sarah's comment:
That’s exactly how I feel — about the book and the technology! I think the author did a tremendous job creating a sense of foreboding. He really made the walls close in for me as I read!

Suzanne

I'm not sure if I liked it or disliked it. I wish that it was a little longer and went into more about what had happened outside of where they were and I'm not sure it deserved all the attention it received. I was annoyed with Amanda for parts of it, she just rubbed me the wrong way.

I don't think I would have a different response to it if I had read it pre 2020. Maybe if you knew more about what was going on, I would have had a different response.

I do have technology - cell, internet and cable TV. I will admit to getting annoyed when the cable channels go out but everything else is on. When the whole power goes out, I usually just not worry about it as it will eventually come back on. We've been without power for days during past storms and it becomes a time to read by flashlight and go to bed early. We usually don't miss new then because we know it's storm related. I do remember the blackout that happened on the East coast and trying to get news about what happened and in that way the book and their looking for information made a lot of sense. The unknown can be very scary.

kathy b

Well, I sort of experienced this. When i was turning 16, I went to the boundary waters canoe area, which is now I believe a national park. It was so beautiful. Well, I was all about going. I knew only one girl , a friend of my sister Mary jo's. I think there were 7 of us with a "college guide" who was responsible for us. Which is absolutely unreal to me now.
My parents let me go.
After my first day in the hold of the water and the portaging, I announced at the campfire that I was going to go back. I wasn't staying for 12 days. We had no phone, no television, no radio. NO way to get mail. I was told that the I was going ahead. There was no choice. Shit in the woods, and cover it up. I came to love the water droplets falling off my canoe paddle. My life changed drastically after that trip. I didn't know that. but I see it as a turnging point now. The stars were unlike anything I'd seen and doubled that because the water reflected them all. The silence . The hard work getting from a to b each day. I wish I could remember it more. I know it transformed me

Pam

It was so great to meet some of you this afternoon for the chat - one thing the sense if isolation brought to mind, that I didn't share -- some years ago we drove up highway 395 from somewhere near San Diego to our home in Eastern Washington. We are in the wide open spaces here, but there is a stretch of that road, leaving Lakeview Oregon before you come down into Baker City Oregon, which is the most isolated stretch of highway I've ever been on. It was as if everyone had left and didn't tell us. It was not a comfortable place for me, introvert though I am.

I'm looking forward to learning what your next "read" will be!

Margene

Sadly, I read every post so late that I didn't realize the discussion was last night. Juliann and Carolyn made points that were on my mind. The characters were very paper doll-ish, flat, their conversations all a bit stereotypical and predictable. The writing was what kept me going and the overall story (where are we going?) had me wondering what's next?. The author certainly packed a lot of social dynamics into this story: race, parent-child relations, marital workings, and social networks.
I'm not a dystopian novel fan but of the few I read this year this one was the one that was believable and most disturbing. It rang true. You can see, even if you're in your own home, how upsetting the noises would be, the loss of information, (perhaps even power) and knowing what to do and DON'T know, plus not knowing what to do and where to go to protect yourself and your family. A few fancy bottles of wine and some chichi food isn't going to help for long (and either will that gun). Sorry I missed a chance to talk about it all!

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