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Tom Perrotta talks about "The Leftovers"

"The Rapture is ... a surprisingly rich metaphor for growing older and living with loss," says Perrotta of the end-time theme in "The Leftovers."

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Q. Recalling for a moment the uproar author John Updike created in his home town of Ipswich, Mass., after writing "Couples," a novel that was presumed by some to have revealed the intimate affairs of certain residents of that town, would you say that your fictional version of suburbia is more or less "exciting" than the reality?

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I guess it depends on how exciting your life is. My novels are certainly more exciting than my own life. I would also say, in general, that the contemporary suburban world is probably a lot better behaved than the world Updike was writing about. There seems to be a lot less drama (fewer affairs, less divorce) than there was at the height of the sexual revolution. That’s probably good for society in general – whether it’s good for the novelist is another question.

Q. You've been called variously "the Steinbeck of Suburbia" and "an American Chekhov" for your insightful (and incisive) treatment of the lives of suburbanites. Were you at all influenced by other chroniclers of suburbia such as Updike, John Cheever, Dominick Dunne, or Philip Roth? Or, are there other writers of this particular subject matter who've left lasting impressions on you through their work?

Dominick Dunne is the odd man out on that list. Updike, Cheever, and Roth were big influences on my work, as they were for most writers of my generation, whether they want to admit it or not. I’m also heavily indebted to a number of writers I first encountered in the 1980s, when I was just beginning to write fiction – Raymond Carver, Ann Beattie, Richard Ford, Tim O’Brien, and of course, Tobias Wolff, whom I was lucky enough to study with in the Creative Writing Program at Syracuse.

Q. Have you considered your next project? If so, could you offer a thumbnail sketch?

I don’t know what my next fictional project will be. At the moment, I’m concentrating on the release of "The Leftovers," working on a feature film script of "The Abstinence Teacher" (along with Lisa Cholodenko), and preparing to adapt "The Leftovers" for HBO.

Christopher Hartman is the author of “Advance Man: The Life and Times of Harry Hoagland.”

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