Should I Leave the World Behind?

So, I'm in a book club that reads one book per month and meets in person each third Tuesday to discuss the selection. Members submit books in December, and our fearless leader curates the selections. We work off a yearly schedule, with December reserved for our annual Christmas party.

The taste of the group leans towards literary fiction, a genre known for its vagueness.

This brings us to Rumaan Alam's Leave the World Behind, the book for July 2023.

The story transpires over the course of about four days and involves a family's vacation rental of a house in the woods. That much sounds like the familiar setup for a horror movie, with all its impending scares. However, the twist is that the impending doom doesn't take shape within the story, except for telltale signs.

We are left to wonder what lies just ahead, and we are sure it will be something bad that calls into question the way twenty-first-century, middle-class Americans structure their lives.

Alam uses a variety of literary devices to keep us puzzled. For instance, the point of view ("POV") changes from paragraph to paragraph so that we hear what a character says, then read what he really thinks (which are almost always decidedly different realities).

Leave the World Behind is best for what it doesn't say. That's a backhand compliment to Alam because he manages to leave us guessing while constructing a world where guesses usually miss their mark.

I found myself wondering how Alam would put all the pieces together, only to realize at the end that the uncertainty of what lies ahead for his characters is the same uncertainty that lies ahead for us all as we slowly destroy the world in which we live.


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