Last week, Gooodreads sent me my stats for 2021 and so far, I've read 22 books. Of those, I would say Rumaan Alam's Leave the World Behind is in my top five favorites of the year.
Alam's writing was completely new to me. I was loaned a copy by a friend, who handed me the book and I said, "I think you're going to love this."
I was only on page two when I thought to myself, "Damn, this is what I wish my writing sounded like."
Alam has a gift for vivid description, with snark and smart social commentary sprinkled in. For example, on page 11, he is describing the main character's trip to the grocery store on her first day of summer vacation. He writes:
"She bought a pound of ground coffee, so potent she could smell it through the vacuum seal, and size 4 coffee filters made of recycled paper. If you care? She cared! She bought a three-pack of paper towels, and a spray-on sunscreen, and aloe, because the children had inherited their father's pale skin. She bought those fancy crackers you put out when there were guests, and Ritz crackers, which everyone liked best, and crumbly white cheddar cheese and extra-garlicky hummus and an unsliced hard salami and those carrots that are tumbled around until they're the size of a child's fingers. She bought packages of cookies from Pepperidge Farm and three pints of Ben & Jerry's virtuous ice cream and a Duncan Hines boxed mix for yellow cake and a Duncan Hines tub of chocolate frosting with a red plastic lid, because parenthood had taught her that on a vacation's inevitable rainy day you could while away an hour by baking a boxed cake."
Who else could use a grocery list to tell you so much about a person's state of mind? It's brilliant.
This story centers around Amanda and Clay, a couple who lives in Manhattan with their two kids and have escaped to the Hamptons for summer break. Amanda works for an ad agency and has a hard time disconnecting. Her kids are tweens, teetering between needing their parents and wanting nothing to do with them.
The first half of the story you're just getting to know the four family members, understanding how this sacred place is helping them to unwind and find connection again. But half way through an unexplainable event occurs. The power goes out, the internet is down, glass has shattered on doors and windows, and everyone starts to feel sick.
Alongside this mystery event, the owners of the Hamptons house, G.H. and Ruth, return seeking a safe place to wait out this disaster. Amanda and Clay are rattled by their arrival and the awkwardness continues as they try to co-exist during a crisis.
In the final 20 or so pages, the book started to take a bit of an "end of the world" turn that I didn't enjoy. That said, I was gripped for the first 90% of the book and would still highly recommend it.
If you liked Tom Perrotta's Little Children or Bruce Holsinger's The Gifted School, this has a very similar vibe.
I'm currently reading The Undocumented Americans by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio. I have about 30 pages left. I can't wait to share my thoughts with you.