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Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Literary fiction

Leave the World Behind

Repeat author

Rumaan Alam is back at Book of the Month – other BOTMs include Rich and Pretty.

by Rumaan Alam

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Quick Take

This ominous, genre-bending novel gets real weird real fast after a blackout strands two families in a vacation home.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Slow_Build

    Slow build

  • Illustrated icon, Cerebral

    Cerebral

  • Illustrated icon, Brainy

    Brainy

  • Illustrated icon, Unsetteling

    Unsettling

Synopsis

Amanda and Clay head out to a remote corner of Long Island expecting a vacation: a quiet reprieve from life in New York City, quality time with their teenage son and daughter, and a taste of the good life in the luxurious home they’ve rented for the week. But a late-night knock on the door breaks the spell. Ruth and G. H. are an older Black couple—it’s their house, and they’ve arrived in a panic. They bring the news that a sudden blackout has swept the city. But in this rural area—with the TV and internet now down, and no cell phone service—it’s hard to know what to believe.

Should Amanda and Clay trust this couple—and vice versa? What happened back in New York? Is the vacation home, isolated from civilization, a truly safe place for their families? And are they safe from one another?

Why I love it

I first read Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam in the middle of the darkest days of the pandemic. The feelings of isolation, fear and uncertainty were so vivid in Alam’s writing that I worried it would be too immediate. I’m not typically drawn to books like this but I was captivated by Alam’s masterfully written characters and the detail and intimacy with which he writes about family dynamics and race.

The story begins with Amanda, a type-A working mom; her cigarette-sneaking husband, Clay; and their two teenage children, Rose and Archie; as they embark on a picturesque vacation from their busy Brooklyn-based lives. Everything is going well at the secluded property they rented in a far-flung corner of Long Island, until an elderly Black couple—the owners, as it turns out—knocks at the door in the middle of the night, seeking refuge from a blackout in the city. As the isolated strangers navigate their new relationship, mysterious happenings continue to make them question everything they think they know.

With October being the month for eerie stories, I could not imagine a better book to pick up than Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam. It’s chilling and mysterious but also poignant and even funny. My only advice: Read it with the lights on.

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Literary fiction
View all
Margo’s Got Money Troubles
Annie Bot
Mercury
The Other Valley
The Bullet Swallower
Alice Sadie Celine
Let Us Descend
Banyan Moon
Shark Heart
Dominicana
What's Mine and Yours
Ask Again, Yes
Vladimir
Infinite Country
The Many Daughters of Afong Moy
Black Buck
Luster
Paper Names
The Light Pirate
The Half Moon
Valentine
Leave the World Behind
Little Monsters
Yerba Buena
Beautiful World, Where Are You
Free Food for Millionaires
Sing, Unburied, Sing
Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?
Future Home of the Living God
Red Clocks
The Mars Room
Eat Only When You're Hungry
Unsheltered
The Goldfinch
Welcome to Braggsville
Heat & Light
Nicotine
Perfect Little World
Someday, Maybe