Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
Published by Ecco, 2020
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Asking critical questions about trust, family and power, Leave the World Behind is a masterclass in delayed tension, as two families seek to overcome their differences and survive what may be the end of days.
Amanda, Clay and their two teenage children have rented a remote vacation home in Long Island to escape the stresses of daily life. In the dead of night, the spell is broken by a knock at the door. It heralds the arrival of Ruth and G.H., an older Black couple who claim to own the property. They explain that New York has been hit by a blackout and that something strange is going on in the city, so they’ve returned to Long Island seeking shelter. Amanda and Clay warily let them in, though they have no WiFi, phone or TV signal to corroborate the couple’s story. As events take ever stranger turns, they will all be pushed to consider the fragile nature of safety and togetherness.
The opening chapters establish Amanda, Clay and their children as a typical middle-class, white American family, as eager to maintain their carefully curated image as they are prone to casual racism. It’s clear they are not bad people, and we sympathize with them later in the narrative, but it does well to highlight just how ingrained society’s prejudices surrounding race and class have become.
The arrival of Ruth and G.H. forces them to confront these biases within themselves. Amanda and Clay’s initial play for dominance and mistrust of the homeowners is rooted in harmful stereotypes and their misguided belief that a Black couple could never afford to own such a beautiful home.