“Leave the World Behind” is a dystopian novel that feels all too real. Something is happening but no one seems to know what.
Clay and Amanda, average New York City dwellers, have rented a luxurious house on Long Island for a much needed vacation with their two teenage children, Archie and Rose. Amanda found the house on Airbnb, where the owner suggested that the renter “Step into our beautiful house and leave the world behind.” During the lengthy drive from Manhattan, Amanda is thinking about work and her need to be needed, Clay is thinking about cigarettes and Rose is thinking about her friends. As they approach the house on Long Island they begin to lose cell phone reception. The house is beautiful, luxurious and has a pool and hot tub. “The photographs on the website were a promise, and it was fulfilled.”
The day after they arrive the family enjoys a hot sunny day at the beach. They make dinner upon their return, the kids go to sleep and Clay and Amanda sit together slightly drunk. Suddenly Amanda is certain she hears a noise. Then there is a knock at the door. Standing at the front door is an older black couple. They introduce themselves as G. H. (George) and Ruth Washington, the owners of the house. They explain that while they were in the city at the symphony New York experienced a blackout. They live on the 14th floor of a building on Park Avenue between 81st and 82nd and did not think they would be able to climb 14 stories, so they decided to drive out to Long Island. They were pleased to see that the power was still on and they ask to stay in the house, offering Amanda and Clay $1000 in cash. Ultimately, after a lot of hesitation on Amanda’s part, some of it racial (“This didn’t seem to her like the sort of house where black people lived”), Amanda and Clay agree. The couple had built an in-law suite in the basement and that is where they stay.
The next morning Amanda sees some headlines on her phone indicating a major blackout on the east coast. Then the phone completely stops working, as do the televisions and the Wi-Fi. Rose steps outside and sees at the edge of the property what appears to be 1000 deer. She does not tell her parents for fear that they will not believe her.
Clay decides to drive into town and get the news about what might be happening. He drives and drives, but gets completely lost. There are no other cars about but he sees a woman walking along the road. She speaks to him in another language and is clearly terrified. He just leaves her on the road. While he is away, Amanda and Ruth get to know each other. G. H. is a wealthy fund manager. Ruth had been in admissions at Dalton school. We learn that Clay is a tenured professor of English and Media studies at City College and Amanda works in advertising.
Archie and Rose go walking in the woods, where they see another house. While they are in the woods, while Clay is driving around, while G. H. and Amanda are in the hot tub and while Ruth is in the house, there is a noise. “A noise, but that didn’t cover it…This was a noise, yes, but one so loud that it was a physical presence…Of course, they’d never heard a noise like that before. You didn’t hear such a noise; you experienced it, endured it, survived it, witnessed it.”
Everyone returns to the house. Archie is not feeling well and goes to sleep. The two adult women react to each other. Ruth resents having them in her house. Amanda “blamed them for bringing the world into this house.” Clay, Amanda and G. H. get into the hot tub and they hear splashing in the pool, where they see seven pink flamingos. No one is able to explain what pink flamingos are doing in Long Island. And then suddenly, there is another noise.
Clay, Amanda, Archie and Rose all sleep together that night. In the morning, Archie throws up and then his teeth start to fall out. G. H. and Clay leave to take him to the hospital, stopping first at the home of an acquaintance of G. H. The acquaintance tells them that they should not be out, that everything is shut down and that they might be under attack.
The reader learns that there are airplanes that no one knows exists traveling across the continent to intercept enemies. People are dying all over the country. In the end, the status of the world, of the couples and the children are unknown. But should they have seen this coming? Should we see this coming? “…the information had always been out there waiting for them, in the gradual death of Lebanon’s cedars, in the disappearance of the river dolphin, in the renaissance of cold-war hatred, in the discovery of fusion, in the capsizing vessels crowded with Africans. No one could plead ignorance that was not willful.”
The novel is frighteningly real. You can feel it happening. This novel reminds me of Nevil Shute’s novel, “On the Beach”, except slightly (and only slightly) more hopeful. I really don’t know how I feel about this well written, yet incredibly creepy book. You can reserve it at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here. After you read this, let me know what you think. I really want to know!
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