Rumaan Alam’s third novel, Leave the World Behind, is not a traditional horror story. The monsters are well-meaning but oblivious white people, and the macabre details that flirt at the edge of the story are existential and mostly unknown to the characters. Yet it is the most unsettling novel I’ve read in my recent memory.
The narrator follows Amanda, an account director (a job that mostly consists of emails); her husband, Clay, a professor of media studies (Amanda doesn’t even really know what that is); and their two teenage children as they take a respite from the New York City at an upscale Airbnb with a pool and hot tub. The house’s owners, G.H. and Ruth, an older Black couple in their sixties, come to the door one night seeking respite from a disaster that has knocked out power on most of the East Coast. Amanda and Clay have nothing more than a headline from a Times push notification to confirm this account of what is going on in the outside world. When their internet and phones go down, they still have electricity, the family carries on uneasily, unsure if they should believe that G.H. and Ruth really do own the house. Meanwhile, strange occurrences fail to give any insight into what kind of disaster the rest of the world is facing. Birds fall silent; an intense and unidentifiable sound breaks some windows; thousands of deer pass through the yard.
As climate change, political upheaval, and the lingering pandemic make impending disaster a normal part of life, this book will prompt readers to reflect on how they’ll behave at the end of the world. As we increasingly tolerate the absurd while clinging to normalcy, what can still actually cause us to panic? Join the Indy Book Club group to discuss existential dread and the casting of the Netflix adaptation of Leave the World Behind on November 3, 6 p.m., at Municipal Winemakers, 22 Anacapa Street.
Learn more at independent.com/indybookclub.