This ominous, genre-bending novel gets real weird real fast after a blackout strands two families in a vacation home.
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Why I love it
Jenna Bush Hager
Co-host, TODAY with Hoda & Jenna
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.
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?