Ellen’s Pick of the Week: Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Amanda and Clay have rented a luxury home via Airbnb in a remote spot on Long Island for a week of rest and escape for themselves and for their two teenage kids. After a day of lounging poolside and enjoying the comforts of their rental home, the doorbell rings in the middle of the night. Standing on the porch in the dark is an older African American couple who claim they own the house.  Rose and GH Washington tell them that the power had gone off in NYC and they believed they’d be safer in the country than in the city. After some discussion, Amanda and Clay invite the older couple into the house, and together they adjust to the awkwardness and, without phone,  TV or internet service, they try to understand what’s going on outside their little bubble.  And although, we never find out for sure, the author drops enough subtle hints that it’s clear that whatever has happened is widespread and apocalyptic. 

Without dwelling at all on what’s happening in the outside world, author Alam creates a suspenseful novel about racism, family dynamics and social class, all the while he slowly ratchets up the tension. I read this book in one day and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I put it down. The characters are well drawn and the situation seems all too plausible in this Annus horribilus of 2020. Some on Goodreads have suggested that this is NOT the book to read if you’re already feeling claustrophobic and stressed from the pandemic and current politics. I found the author’s light touch as he deals with difficult subjects both compelling and disturbing. Highly recommended.

Some exciting news from Kirkus: Netflix has purchased the worldwide distribution rights for a future film adaptation of Rumaan Alam’s upcoming Kirkus-starred novel, Leave the World Behind, according to Deadline. The movie is set to co-star Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts, and will be directed by Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail; all three will co-produce. No prospective release date has yet been announced.

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