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Discomfort is the point

Cover of Leave the World Behind
A review of Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Alam starts his novel on the most ordinary of notes. Amanda and Clay and their two kids, Archie and Rose, are headed to a rural area of Long Island for a summer vacation. They've rented a house, a very nice one, on an isolated country road and plan on limited contact with the world. For the next few days they swim in the pool, hit the small local grocery store and make a trip to the beach. Nothing too exciting, but that's the goal. Late on the third night that goal is upended when there's a knock on the door.

When Clay opens the door (much to Amanda's dismayed disapproval) they find an older Black couple. G.H and Ruth Washington. G.H. explains that they own the house and had been returning to their home in New York when word came across the radio of a blackout. Fearing endless traffic in a city with no traffic lights, they've decided to retreat to their country home. Amanda is deeply skeptical, but finally agrees with Clay that there's really no other option. They admit the couple to the house for what is meant to be just the night. And then the news gets worse as they realize they're cut off from everything and they have no idea just what is going on.

This is a novel that touches on issues of race and class, for sure. But where it really dwells is in exploring the things we fear, about the world and ourselves. Alam leads his characters and the reader into ever-increasing levels of uncertainty. And as the uncertainty grows, so too the fear. Nicely done. 

Sep 25, 2023