Tom Perrotta and the Brutal Power of Ordinary Details

Tom Perrotta

Tom Perrotta attends The Leftovers premiere at NYU Skirball Center on June 23, 2014 in New York City. Photo credit: Getty Images

Author Tom Perrotta, co-creator of an HBO drama, discusses how Wilder’s classic American play has informed his own writing, The Leftovers in particular.

As part of their By Heart series, in which authors share and discuss their all-time favorite passages in literature, The Atlantic magazine published a reflection by Tom Perrotta, “The Leftovers, Our Town, and the Brutal Power of Ordinary Details.” An excerpt can be found below, as well as a link to the complete article.

[…] despite the dramatic premise, The Leftovers is really about the everyday experience of grief—and for Perrotta, literary power lies not with sound and fury but in small details. As he explained in our conversation for this series, writers need quiet, daily moments to open the door to greater themes and feelings. To illustrate, Perrotta turned to Thornton Wilder’s classic play Our Town, which takes great pains to build the quotidian social fabric that it ultimately intends to tear apart.
Tom Perrotta: When I was a kid, I got a lot of my information from Reader’s Digest—and I first saw Our Town referred to in a copy my parents had lying around. […] Though the takeaway was banal—carpe diem!—something about it still made a big impression on me. There was a compelling, Twilight Zone-like quality to the idea of someone coming back from the dead, looking on in anguish and regret at her own life. I remember thinking Our Town was something I should try to read.
I was in my late 20s when I first saw the play performed—the Spalding Gray version put on in New York in the late ’80s—and I loved it. When I went to see a new production about a year ago in Boston, I made sure to bring my kids.
The play generates an enormous amount of emotion from just that basic fact of existence.

To enjoy the complete article, please visit The Atlantic magazine website.

The Leftovers Novel Cover

The cover for Tom Perrotta’s novel, The Leftovers. A television adaptation premiered on HBO on June 29, 2014.