The clever ironies and turns on the property metaphor are matched only by the twists in the plot to come. A book that begins as a novel of class and then comes to encompass race by the middle transforms again into a waking nightmare ... And the narrator, who has moved deftly from character to character, investing us fully in the lives of all six occupants of the Airbnb, expands our viewpoint outward, to the woods, to the city, to the planet. And the news is not good ... the perfect title for a book that opens with the promise of utopia and travels as far from that dream as our worst fears might take us. It is the rarest of books: a genuine thriller, a brilliant distillation of our anxious age, and a work of high literary merit that deserves a place among the classics of dystopian literature.
... enthralling ... Leave the World Behind is a coy little thing: a disaster novel without the disaster ... In most literature of this ilk, the disaster, whether rising seas or a virus, is a force of narrative tension: the reader is keen to learn how humans move from a time of upheaval to one of stability. Alam never gets there; upheaval is all his characters have. His achievement is to see that his genre’s traditional arc, which relies on the idea of aftermath, no longer makes sense.
For Alam, who writes about his characters as if he were a medical student dissecting a cadaver, psychological depth is not the point. He has an interior barometer exquisitely calibrated to signifiers of social class: ...His interest lies in taxonomies of race and class, not in generating the reader’s empathy or evoking an emotional response. Lacking the capacity for deep reflection, his characters drift along in their bubbles, so perfectly self-absorbed that the other people in their lives are all but invisible, except to the extent that they function as projections. With chapters often only three or four pages long and tending to cut away just as a scene starts to get complicated, the effect is disconcerting, destabilizing. But it is also necessarily limited. Tensions are left unexplored; paths for development are foreclosed ... Both the advantages and disadvantages of this approach are evident in Leave the World Behind, Alam’s third novel, which is an odd hybrid of thriller and social satire ... Alam is at his best when lavishing attention on the texture and details of a certain style of privileged contemporary urban life, rendering it with a Chuck Close–style hyperrealism that magnifies its flaws ... Despite its appearance, Leave the World Behind isn’t a book about a global disaster; it’s a book about racism—or, more precisely, white entitlement...As the novelist, Alam controls the narrative; it’s his prerogative to spotlight white ignorance and entitlement. At the same time, the stereotype-heavy characters combine with the lack of plot development to give this book the feeling of a set piece rather than a fully realized work of fiction ... Alam is a gifted writer; I devoured Leave the World Behind in a long gulp on an insomniac night. The verisimilitude with which he depicts a certain social world is impressive. But I was left wishing he had marshaled his talents in the service of something more ambitious. This slender book feels like half a novel, one that might work better if it dissected human motivation as assiduously as it does shopping habits, or if it tried to pull its seemingly random nuggets of terror into a cohesive shape. When a writer seems to be more interested in describing shallowness than in diving into the mess of human emotion, the result can be fiction that circles around urgent social questions without really examining them.
... a zingy dystopian exercise whose blooming absurdities (the less about which you know going in, the better) would seem frankly unbelievable if they didn’t ring so true ... Alam has both a golden ear and a gimlet eye for the Sturm und Drang of the city's ever-shifting social's strata; a way of slyly dinging its self-delusions and virtue-signalling without turning cruel or petty ... Unsurprisingly, the book's rights have already been snapped up by Netflix...The plan is to present it as a feature film, though the full length of a limited series might better serve the busy tangle of ideas on race and class and consumerism and 21st-century malaise contained within Alam's wild World; until then, his bright, audacious words will have to do.
For the reader, the invisible terror outside in Leave the World Behind echoes the sense of disquiet today in a world convulsed by the pandemic. There are intense parallels between the unreality of life in the Long Island bolt-hole described in the book and lockdown ... [Alam] is adept at drawing out the interior lives of the characters ... Alam acutely describes the visceral love of parenting ... Surprisingly, for a book about the ultimate holiday disaster, the characters’ relationships to their jobs are acutely defined. Work becomes a signifier about class, and reveals the characters’ motivations and beliefs ... the novel excels in its dissection of modern liberal America and forces the reader to confront the limits of their own heroism in the face of disaster.
Alam’s two previous novels have proved he’s gifted with an acidic wit, one he uses to break down contemporary life at the cellular level. His wry observations about the structured chaos of vacation life might go on indefinitely — but then comes a knock at the door ... All those functions that never seem to exist in fiction are on artful display here, an intimacy that is also a challenge. Why are you cringing? Why are you looking away? ... Alam doesn’t dwell in the specificity of apocalypse, which has been the obsession of writers since the Flood. Instead he lobs a prescient accusation: Faced with the end of the world, you wouldn’t do a damn thing ... Comfort comes from the where-were-you-when stories that will someday be all that’s left of our current crisis. That Alam anticipates this psychological reflex, that he articulates it with depth and self-flagellation, and that he has been proved so right by the world we’re living in now, is what makes his narrative both beautiful and unbearable. Stop cringing. Stop looking away ... For all this, Alam’s early tragicomedy-of-manners approach to race falters. The arrival of the Black, genteel older couple creates, as the narrative bruisingly points out, an opportunity to play Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Their interiority never arrives ... Self-consciously, Alam sticks with whom he seems most comfortable: the NPR-listening, Carroll Gardens-dwelling, New York Times-reading every-person ... Still, if the first half can turn a mirror on you, the second half will shatter it. Leave the World Behind teeters on that seesaw-edge question in horror fiction: to reveal the monster or not? Ultimately it totters too far to one side, but there is still the primal nail-biting need to know what-the-hell-is-going-on. This propulsion, which drives much of the characters’ decisions, likewise drives the reader onward to a breathless conclusion that, if not altogether satisfying, is undeniably haunting.
Alam is a master when it comes to building characters both familiar and alien ... By creating people who are firmly established (if not wholly likable), Alam thoroughly terrifies us as they face what could be the end of it all in Leave the World Behind ... Like Stephen King’s 1980 novella The Mist, Leave the World Behind expertly illustrates the horror of the unknown, the almost painful humanity we feel when facing down the end and, of course, human nature under duress. During an era of plague, racism, hatred, and division, this tale of a vacation gone awry is terrifyingly prescient.
Alam’s novel is simply breathtaking, full of moments of exquisite recognition, as terrifying and prescient as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Alam is a writer of scrupulous precision, drawing the reader into the world of his characters through detailed inventories of the objects about them ... Leave the World Behind was written before the coronavirus crisis and yet it taps brilliantly into the feeling of generalised panic that has attached itself to the virus and seems to mingle fears about the climate, inequality, racism and our over-reliance on technology. As the reader moves through the book, a new voice interjects, an omniscient narrator who begins to allow us gradual access to the terrifying events taking place across America. Leave the World Behind is an extraordinary book, at once smart, gripping and hallucinatory ... When future generations (if that term doesn’t sound over-optimistic at the moment) want to know what it was like to live through the nightmare of 2020, this is the novel they’ll reach for.
... the latest entry in that strangely popular form of middle-brow escapism, the apocalypse novel ... In essence this is good schlock horror—think Stephen King’s The Mist with much better writing ... it nibbles at Zeitgeist subjects like race relations and conspicuous consumption ... This makes the novel vividly relatable to the NPR listeners who are most likely to read it. It’s a shrewd move, to caution against late-capitalist decadence while partaking in it.
... fast-paced and haunting ... [Alam] has given us a tightly contained narrative within the much broader scope of a frightening crisis ... Alam makes clever and subtle reminders of their privileged obliviousness ... Alam’s prose is polished, melodic, and precise. This precision allows for the narrative perspective to wander with effortless shifts between characters. It is the trick of a skilled storyteller. Alam hones the focus too, pulling back from the close perspective to offer hints of the broader chaos beyond, yet still unknown to the characters. It has a powerful effect. The reader gains small hints of the looming catastrophe, but the point of view snaps back quickly to the characters, maintaining the suspense ... The shifts in perspective also aids in pacing. The story is never bogged down with irritating character proclivities ... Alam guides the pace of the story with expert timing. Each new happening raises the tension. It’s unsettling ... Turning the page is addictive. Alam’s narrative compels the reader forward with unexpected horrors, both terrifying and curious. The narrative, however, never dwells too long in any one place, denying us information and adding to the mystery ... an engrossing and haunting novel where the fantasy of unplugging becomes a nightmare. Leave The World Behind is a stunning literary thriller closely examining the most basic of human relationships.
... showcases a darker side to [Alam's] writing ... Impending doom hangs over Alam’s prose like power lines—their humming ever-present even during the book’s brighter, more contented chapters ... Alam paints a compelling picture of a world where all the old ways of being seem to be coming undone, and asks us to watch six people try to come to terms with it. While not quite apocalyptic in its subject matter, it is a book about upheaval on a personal and grand scale. For those of us who are dreading the future, Leave The World Behind can be hard to swallow at times—but the prose is so good it makes the bitterness go down smooth.
Alam’s descriptions and details immerse you in his world; his character descriptions are almost repulsive in their beauty ... Alam’s narrative shifts easily between the gorgeous and the repellant; in his writing is embodied both beauty and the horror of our daily existence. It’s an incredible gift, and one he uses to great effect throughout this novel ... It’s hard to categorize Leave the World Behind in any meaningful way. Is it literary fiction? Yes. Is it a thriller? Sure. Is it science fiction? Not quite, but it could be ... It may seem like reading a book about the moment the world changes might be unsettling right now. Instead, bearing witness to the range of emotions, the panic, the uncertainty and fear and doubt on a small scale, within this household, provides some comfort. There are no easy answers, but in the midst of uncertainty, we have each other to rely on. And maybe that will get us through.
Throughout the novel, Alam floats freely among the perspectives of his characters, but this is the first point at which the technique really sizzles. He drifts back and forth between Amanda, suspicious but embarrassed of her suspicion, and the couple, G.H. and Ruth Washington, who are very carefully playing their roles in order to gain entrance ... Alam offers flashes of direct evidence that there is a greater danger hovering over them, most unnoticed by the adults ... the novel is a testament to the human urge to go on as before, hoping that your tiny spot on the map, at least, has been spared.
Alam’s brilliance is less in what he reveals and more in what he doesn’t. Fear of the unknown ratchets up the reader’s anxiety, and yet Leave the World Behind unfolds slowly for a thriller ... Leave the World Behind is certainly timely in the era of COVID-19, but it’s also relevant for anyone who has questioned our society’s dependence on technology, or who has unwavering faith in the social contract. The characters second-guess their beliefs about safety and security. Readers who are safe at home—maybe?—can’t help but do the same.
Alam is drawn to characters resigned to lives of quiet consumerism, shaping the novel around a couple of well-to-do, internet-addled families at a vacation home. As the families weather mysterious indications of a far-reaching and deadly disaster and their placid retreat mutates into a shelter from apocalypse, they carry on with their drinking and small-talk, never knowing what to feel or what to do. Without entertaining alternatives, they continue to shut out the world and cling to the security of their exclusive, expensive clan. The novel courts indifference and is ultimately bested by it, cast out like its characters on the shimmering surface of experience to face oblivion ... what’s less exciting in this novel is the game itself, fixed such that all points accrue to the same column: everyone’s clueless, and a bit of a philistine ... The novel was advertised and reviewed as a Get Out -style thriller that’s likewise an examination of anti-Black racism as well as an apocalypse horror story with science-fiction elements. After a few chapters that introduce us to Clay and Amanda’s family, these ingredients begin appearing on the page, but not with the insistence or subversion needed to steer the novel away from its consuming subject: how frustratingly vapid its characters are, swaddled in their fog of inexactitude ... Although the stakes are high, the prose is constantly emphasizing the futility and insignificance of it all ... With pointless remarks like this the reader is kept circling the themes and issues that the novel purports to engage, but never gets any closer. This holding pattern style of writing might generously be said to reflect the listless machinations of Alam’s characters’ minds, but it isn’t always clear ... I’ve yet to read a review of it that didn’t also call it 'prescient' — but about what? ... Uncertainty is the novel’s reason for being and answer to everything. It’s the only plausible villain and a primary psychological component of each character’s interiority save for G.H., who prides himself on knowing things but only seems foolish in the end, too ... The glib cynicism comes too easily, is not earned.
Leave the World Behind is atmospheric and prescient: Its rhythms of comedy alternating with shock and despair mimic so much of the rhythms of life right now. That's more than enough to make it a signature novel for this blasted year.
The characters in Rumaan Alam’s ominous new novel, Leave the World Behind, directly grapple with a series of important existential questions: 1. How do you behave in an emergency? 2. What kind of prejudices do you, liberal you, hold quietly in your heart? And 3. What do you do when you’re afraid? ... Alam seems intent on exploding racism and its complexities via the analysis of very specific relationships and dynamics ... Alam’s novel feels far more concerned with questions of character, prejudice, and morality than it does with plot. His book seems to be built on a thesis of exploring what disaster does to a person, and at times, the characters feel like vehicles for that thesis rather than characters in their own right ... There is a pervasive sense that the characters are trapped in a tableau, which in part could be a commentary on their luxurious backdrop, the sly way this cocooned vacation home starts to feel suffocatingly isolated. Early in the novel a passivity settles over the group, and while that too could be because they are in a comfortable space, it is never satisfactorily examined ... Leave the World Behind is an interesting type of apocalypse examination because it focuses on what happens to those removed from the action. Rather than fully examining the ramifications of this strange new world, it looks at the scars from the old world — race, class — that must be confronted in order for these characters to survive in the new.
In cutting detail, Alam moves between all the characters’ private thoughts on race, privilege, class and survival, revealing the lies they tell each other both to encourage a sense of calm and to protect their own insecurities. It’s precisely the kind of story I’ve sworn to avoid since the beginning of the pandemic...But Alam captures the surreal normalcy of life in a crisis; the jarring juxtaposition of moments of mysterious horror alongside long afternoons spent slicing Brie for poolside sandwiches ... I read the book in one sitting, and have thought of it every day since ... can help readers realize that we’re not alone and serve as a kind of reminder of the big picture ... There’s a dark comfort to engaging with these stories, a sense that living in uncertainty does not necessarily mean we are alone—and that knowing the future won’t help prevent it.
In a time of global pandemic, racial justice uprising, and widespread economic hardship, Rumaan Alam’s third novel may be the best thing you can read about one of the worst things you can imagine. A perfectly-engineered thrill ride that is also a novel of ideas, Leave the World Behind combines deft prose, a pitiless view of consumer culture and a few truly shocking moments ... It is a tribute to Alam’s skill that the existential horror of such questions doesn’t just intensify his characters’ white-knuckle situation, but truly deepens the novel as a whole, making profoundly resonant truths that are both difficult and clear-eyed. Leave the World Behind is an exceptional read that will stay with you long after you’ve sped through its final pages.
This is an odd duck of a book, no question about it. It's for the enjoyment of a very select audience, one who delights in the sheer giddy pleasure of the imaginative way words follow each other on the page ... This book has been marketed as suspenseful and an examination of race. It's not all that suspenseful in the usual sense of the word when discussing genre, and there is nothing provocative in it about race, either ... Nevertheless, it's worth a read for the supremely skilled writing even though the plot goes missing in action early on.
... one of the saddest and most gripping books you will ever read ... Every character is flawed, fragile and believable ... As his characters veer from seizures of panic to intimations of loss, it becomes impossible to put the book down, to look away. This novel describes with documentary precision the profound irrationality of the way we live—the wretched excess, the obsession with status and wealth, the refusal to face the increasing likelihood of catastrophe in the face of fires and floods, pandemics and weaponized dictators ... What might have been a suspenseful and socially realistic piece of dystopian fiction has become something far more resonant, a vision of an entirely plausible future ... Sometimes it takes a gifted storyteller to make us see what our imaginations cannot grasp. Leave the World Behind tells us, with a heart-stopping insistence, that the time to fix what’s broken is now.
The premise holds delicious satirical potential ... about halfway through the tale, disastrous and inexplicable events turn Leave the World Behind into a claustrophobic drama-comedy about capable people turning inward from fear, stuck in tight loops of useless conjecture and indecision, regressing into near-feral primitiveness ... It’s quite a ride, but the bubble setting in which bad goes to worse also becomes a trap that Alam fails to infuse with congruent ideas ... it’s easy to get the sense Leave the World Behind is going to be powered by frenetic, almost smug observations of the flotsam of middle-class family life ... Nothing would have been sacrificed in Alam’s group portrait of panicky cluelessness by adding a little dimension to the principals. There are many times Alam doesn’t really tell a story so much as review the one in his head ... there are times when a reader’s encounter with a character is less like revelation than scanning Alam’s mental notes on that person ... Yet there are a number of moments of startling grace.
Terrifying in its understatement, the novel is about the end of the world and what we might do when we get there. Reading this during a global pandemic is one of the most chilling literary experiences of 2020 ... Alam doles out details of the catastrophe in simple but unsettling asides. There are no big, showy scenes of horror, but you’ll remember this book the next time you ride the subway or get into an elevator. The anxiety builds to a point where you’re afraid to turn the page and yet you can’t stop yourself. Leave the World Behind is scary and propulsive, but it’s also a pointed warning. Whether we’ll hear it in time is anybody’s guess. In the meantime, pass the wine.
Alam creates an atmosphere of dread so convincing and prescient that it stays with the reader long after reading. This beautifully paced story about a sudden and catastrophic unknown event lures the reader into a tale of sun, sea and holidaymaking before ripping the beach towel from under us to leave us shivering on the shore alone ... An emotionally resonant read, it taps into our age of anxiety and confirms the worst. If this novel can be categorised as science fiction, it is in the most literal sense: Alam has made up a story that has its basis in science and reality. You feel as if the terrible things in this book could happen tomorrow ... Alam’s pacing of events is exemplar ... Even with the cataclysmic events, the writing has a darkly comic undertone that recalls Jenny Offill and, particularly, Taffy Brodesser-Akner ... The subject of race is also deftly examined ... Not everything works. The omniscient voice is too busy in early chapters, with Alam needing to show more restraint in explaining, especially when it comes to dialogue. There is the sense that he doesn’t trust his reader. But this peters out over time as the magnificent mood of dread takes hold ... An undeniably skilled writer, Alam leaves us with an indelible image of what it feels like to truly leave the world as we know it behind.
Alam’s trope-heavy third novel has the makings of a farce, and the portents of a slaughter ... It’s a delicious conceit, a theatrically contained collision of power and prejudice. There’s such scope for viciousness, and for virtue, too ... perhaps this is the resounding point of the book: when faced with the prospect of world-altering calamity – its moral exigencies and necessary sacrifices – we’re unlikely to do much at all except break out the hummus. It’s less an accusation than a grotesquely banal human truth ... Alam’s novel invites this comparative shorthand because it struggles to develop a personality of its own ... while we catch omniscient snatches of the coming death and ruin, Alam’s catastrophe is conveniently vague – a catalyst for more intimate terrors.
The writing is spectacular ... There’s a simmering tension between the two families — a successful white couple and an even more successful Black one — but this story isn’t really about race. Instead, it’s about how all four of the adults, and to a lesser extent the children, cope with some sort of a catastrophe unfolding in the larger world. This is when the novel begins to falter. The author makes an odd choice, writing from multiple perspectives — a notoriously hard feat to pull off. Instead of getting to know one or two characters really well, the reader suffers a lengthy whiplash, shuttling among six people’s perspectives — yes, even the children’s. In some scenes, we flit among the perspectives of all four adults. So, we scratch the surface of every character’s personality, but it’s hard to begin to care for any of them as they process the shifting reality around them. And to make matters worse, it’s often hard to tell who’s who ... realistic portrayal of how human beings act during difficult circumstances. But, unfortunately, while there’s a lot of underlying tension in that scene, there’s not nearly enough drama throughout. Essentially, the characters deal with disaster by waiting, baking cake, or driving away ... This is not to say there aren’t moments of beauty and surprise in the story. There’s so much that works wonderfully: acts of kindness, asexual intimacy, disappointment, parental love, and horror. But despite the skilled writing and stretches of effective storytelling, Leave the World Behind ultimately struggles to free itself from the clutches of a few fatal choices the novelist makes.
Beautifully rendered and sardonically crafted, this story tests the bounds of our tolerance when the landscape grows dangerous, and civilization seems on the precipice of disaster ... Alam illustrates the sinister tempest of the inexplicable ... With a flair for the absurd and satirical, Alam portrays the chaotic feeling of isolation and the terrifying fragility of our modern world ... Painfully relevant to the current state of things, Leave the World Behind explores isolation and morality as the lives of its characters are forever changed. With its rapier wit and palpable tension, the novel offers a glimpse into the psychologically distressing and unnerving nature of confinement. And in his depictions of survival and Sisyphean attempts at comprehending what’s going on, Alam explores the struggles of parenthood and the burden of caring about one another. As the characters’ anxiety over their incompetence grows, Alam constructs an eerie and addictive story that captures the strengths and pitfalls of humanity placed under mounting pressure.
... a book that could have been tailor-made for our times, with its tale of racial tensions and an unnatural disaster ... Rumaan Alam seems unsure whether he wants to write a gripping page-turner or a thoughtful exploration of issues. The writing at first is obstructively fussy ... not so much rat-a-tat-tat as drip, drip, drip. (It reminded me of those awful BBC adaptations of Julia Donaldson books they show on Christmas Day, where David Tennant reads a short picture book very . . . very . . . slowly . . .) ... Luckily, halfway through the pace picks up when the characters hear a noise ... And so the novel becomes a disaster story. But unlike many, it gives us not the aftermath, but the first steps. It’s a close-up narrative, and its strength lies in the emotional pull rather than thematic concerns of race and inequality ... Soon a satisfying, to the reader, panic takes hold. There’s something for everyone: that is, to terrify everyone, from parents to nature lovers to hypochondriacs. One nice foreboding touch is when we see flamingos and deer migrating en masse: the animals know something we don’t ... And here’s yet another split in the book: it shouldn’t be tense, as Alam cheekily nips ahead from time to time to let us know how it’s all going to pan out, but we can’t help but share in the family’s urgency. What’s worse, it seems to ask: knowing or not knowing?
... the reader is offered a glimpse at the way in which our perceptions of the world are based on a shared reality … and what happens when that shared reality is shattered in ways we don’t and can’t possibly know ... It is a thoughtful and propulsive read, a story that draws you in and asks – nay, demands – to be compulsively consumed. This is not a book about the world bearing witness to its own end, but rather about what it means to not know, to not understand, even as our faith in our world’s permanence is irrevocably and rightly shaken apart ... Alam pulls a marvelous bit of literary sleight-of-hand here. We spend the first part of the book engaged in what is almost a dramedy of manners, a deconstruction of various flavors of middle-aged angst that rings familiar to any consumer of literary fiction. We even get a racial dynamic – Amanda and Clay are white, G.H. and Ruth black – that lends a tinge of cultural complexity to the situation ... Then, the author flips the script, dropping these two families into the midst of an unclear crisis ... While the delicate narrative gymnastics are impressive enough, there’s even more to the experience ... Alam has a deft confidence with regard to his characters, rendering them as full and complex individuals with a quickly-sketched ease. All of them spring from the page in a matter of a few sentences, fully-formed, flaws and all. That rapidity opens the door for both narrative acceleration and thematic exploration; we know who these people are immediately, their beliefs and biases laid out for us all to see ... Then, of course, there’s the weaponized ambiguity that Alam wields throughout. Without it, we wouldn’t get the sense of creeping dread and fear and paranoia lurking just beneath the surface of it all. And ultimately, it becomes clear that not only do they not know what’s happening, they will NEVER know – for them, at least, the mystery will never be truly solved ... Too often, literature allows itself to be bound by convention and tropes. Rumaan Alam takes a different approach with Leave the World Behind, choosing instead to give us a blending and bending of ideas, moving in one direction before pivoting to another and blurring the lines between them, setting the compass needle to spinning and rewriting the lines on the map to create something quite different from what you’ve experienced before. Loud or quiet, large or small – every ending is its own.
There's a sumptuous fullness of language to the writing, lively metaphors, and a sense of humor that make for a wonderful narrative. But before you decide to read this book, ask yourself if a thriller about catastrophe, class, and racism is something you really want to read during a real pandemic and actual political turmoil ... That uncertainty about the 'why' and the lack of details about what will happen to everyone is awfully similar to the actual predicament we’re in now. You can enjoy this book, as I did, with the thought that things in our real world could be worse. It could end.
... an exacting and dread-inducing story of suspicion, prejudice and hysteria, which unfolds like watching a play confined to a claustrophobic and sinister house ... Alam wrote the novel before the pandemic hit, and yet it feels so entwined with the DNA of 2020, capturing the hallucinatory quality which time takes on when stuck inside not knowing what the future holds ... gives a fascinating dissection of the diminishing white middle class ... a novel which has a cinematic quality to it, with the story bracing you for a jump scare with every rustling tree or squeaking door, conjuring the same creepiness as Jordan Peele's Us in which a holiday home is the setting for an invasion ... While Leave The World Behind nudges you towards the end of days, it knows true terror lies in the quiet wait for bad news as you ask again and again: what is going on?
... atmospheric and nuanced ... As the week drags on, Alam flits between his characters’ minds, providing readers with sharp observations and tension-filled scenes dripping with microaggressions and other nuanced behaviors ... positively engrossing in its tone, pacing and atmosphere. Alam fills his scenes with tension and then backs away just enough that the space between his characters’ actions and his own hand can be filled by his readers’ minds, preconceived notions and familiarity with different genres. I do not believe that any two people will come away from this novel with the same understanding of the conflict, nor the same expectations of the resolution. Alam’s greatest strength lies in his ability to thrust opposites together, allow them to coexist for just long enough, and then throw something completely unexpected into the mix, forcing his characters to take the next step, whatever that may be. Age/youth, Black/white, wealthy/middle-class --- Alam combines all of these opposites and more to create an exceptionally observed and, frankly, chilling portrait of a world gone wrong ... That said, I found the book to be a tad overwritten. There was often too much detail where there could've been none, and though many scenes were impactful and thought-provoking, I caught myself skimming the less action-packed parts unintentionally. The overall feeling of danger and apocalyptic drama was enticing, but it wasn’t until the final third of the novel that I felt myself fully pulled in, unable to look away or stop myself from turning pages ... a genre-bending novel that combines the poignant and terrifying observations of Get Out and When No One is Watching with the survivalist drama of books like The Dreamers and All the Little Children. Claustrophobically tense and provocatively primal, Alam’s third novel is a masterclass in pacing, attention to detail and a keen understanding of the world in which we live and its proximity to destruction.
... a gripping literary disaster novel unleashed from the confines of a middle-class family getaway ... Alam weaves a subtle examination of racial and class privilege as his fine-grained observational social comedy is transformed into creeping horror. The novel was written before the pandemic struck, but the study of crisis psychology makes it feel eerily of the moment.
Though no less witty or bold than his previous works, Mr. Alam’s latest, Leave the World Behind, skirts the edges of horror ... Mr. Alam dwells too long on domestic scenes in the opening pages as the family settles in to their Airbnb. Despite this, he shows a keen understanding of the psychology of his characters, especially when writing of Amanda ... In the book’s final quarter, the increasingly gruesome plot takes over, and Mr. Alam abandons much of the nuance and characterization that had distinguished the book ... Before then, Leave the World Behind is a quietly devastating commentary on both the need for people to unite during trying times and the mitigating factors, from class distinctions to racism, that can prevent some people from trusting others.
... excellent ...A smug and knowing narrator throws us a few gloomy bones – commuters suffocating in an elevator; a Midwestern mother drowning her children in the bathtub – but otherwise we are confined to the upstate, upscale rental house and its strange bedfellows. It works. The physical containment and convincing dialogue bring to mind a memorable stage play. And rather than employing the blunt instruments of apocalyptic cliché (terror, cruelty, resilience, even love), Alam mines, with disarming plausibility, the brittle rules of contemporary bourgeois society.
... so clever and so subtle that it draws readers into a false sense of security and understanding ... Initially, the book seems to be about a modern marriage and family, priorities and choices, and how one measures success in the 21st century, and it is. But it is also much more ... Alam’s writing palpably captures their uneasiness, vulnerability, and fear for their children, with the narrative at turns riveting and disconcerting but in the best way. Readers are given clues to events in the outside world even as the characters remain unaware, but much is left unexplained, leaving the disquiet to linger long after the finish ... Highly recommended and perfectly timed for today’s uncertain world.
Leave the World Behind is pitch-perfect in atmosphere, easy to read and deceptive in the high polish of its setting. Alam has crafted a deeply bewitching and disquieting masterpiece ... [a] captivating, thought-provoking novel.
Alam...brilliantly captures the shift in dynamics between the two families, from apprehension about each other to a collective front against an external entity. The narrative’s increasing tempo expertly dives into subtle yet incisive intersections between class and race ... Alam’s novel lobs a series of unsettling questions: How will we react to the next nebulous horror? How will we parent? What will we define as home?
...Alam’s spectacular and ominous latest...a family’s idyllic summer retreat coincides with global catastrophe ... This illuminating social novel offers piercing commentary on race, class and the luxurious mirage of safety, adding up to an all-too-plausible apocalyptic vision.
Alam’s story unfolds like a dystopian fever dream cloaked in the trappings of a dream vacation ... Alam shows an impressive facility for getting into his characters’ heads and an enviable empathy for their moral shortcomings, emotional limitations, and failures of imagination. The result is a riveting novel that thrums with suspense yet ultimately offers no easy answers—disappointing those who crave them even as it fittingly reflects our time ... Addressing race, risk, retreat, and the ripple effects of a national emergency, Alam's novel is just in time for this moment.