Have you ever been driving down the road and come upon a car with the bumper sticker that reads, "In case of rapture this car will be unmanned"? For a while they were real popular here in southern Chicagoland, and every time I saw one I thought the same thing, How arrogant! Granted, as an atheist I don't really believe in the Rapture or heaven, but from what I know about the teachings of Jesus somehow I find it hard to believe that he would be in favor of his followers assuming that just by believing in him they get a free pass to heaven when the Apocalypse happens. Wasn't he all about good works and loving your neighbor and turning the other cheek and all that? What would happen if suddenly millions of people worldwide disappeared in a Rapture-like event but the supposedly devout faithful weren't necessarily among them?
The narrative structure of this novel is of the every-chapter-from-a-different-POV variety, which I know bothers some people, but it works in this book because it allows Perotta to examine the various personal emotional reactions of the people affected by the Sudden Departure of their friends and family. Aside from the family listed above, we also see the point of view of a woman named Nora, who lost her entire family-husband and two kids-in the time it took for her to go to the kitchen for a rag to wipe up a spill. The depth of her grief feels boundless-to her and to the reader. Her unsuccessful attempts to move on from the event illustrate just how difficult it can be to move forward when everything you thought you knew is taken away.
Perrotta does an admirable job imagining how different types of people would react to such an impossible-seeming occurrence. The loss, and ultimately the not knowing, drive people to extremes. Some turn to religious cults who claim to understand "god's" plan and to provide answers that people seek. Some frenetically try to return to normal, diving into the same mindless consumerism that existed prior to the Departure. Some turn to drugs or alcohol or sex as a way to dull their pain. But the book does not dwell only on the sadness and loss-to me the book's message speaks to the human ability to survive, to the unique capacity of human beings to adapt to new circumstances, to the idea that even in a world where the old rules have been turned on their head, people can and will begin to create order from the chaos.