by Cassandra Parkin
Legend Press; October 1, 2021
The Leftovers is a story about sexual power and consent, the myth of the perfect victim, and a dark exploration of the things we do for – and to – the ones we love.
Callie’s life is spent caring for others – for Frey, her client, and for Noah, her brother. When a tragic car accident shatters her family, she’s left alone with her mother Vanessa. Vanessa’s favourite child was Noah; Callie’s favourite parent was her dad. Now they’re stuck with each other – the leftovers of their family – and they’ll have to confront the ways they’ve been hurt, and the ways they’ve passed that hurt on to others.
When I was working towards my degree in Psychology, I often had professors assign fiction novels for us to read and then write a paper about it, put together a group project, or something like that. The Leftovers is a perfect novel for such circumstances and is one of the rawest examples of psychological fiction that I have read.
The novel is based around Callie who works as a live-in caregiver two weeks per month and then lives at home with her father the other two weeks per month caring for her mentally ill brother, Noah. During her two weeks on, she works together with Josh in providing 24-hour care for a young adult man, Frey, whose illness is never actually labeled. We learn that Frey is non-verbal, very routine-oriented, and has numerous issues with cleanliness and tactile issues such as touch (possibly somewhere on the Autism Spectrum). Callie’s brother Noah is the life of the party that the entire family adores, but struggles determining reality from fantasy hears voices, creates people and situations that are not there (possibly Schizophrenia). Callie and Noah’s parents have been divorced for many years and Callie has not had a relationship with her mother until there is a tragic accident and they are suddenly forced together.
Told entirely from Callie’s point of view, you come to realize that she isn’t the most reliable narrator as the novel goes back and forth between her childhood, her life leading up to and then caring for Frey, and then the present. It doesn’t take long to realize that things aren’t right. There was emotional abuse when she was a child, a laundry list of family issues, and slowly we begin to see that Callie’s quiet and caring nature is a bit off somehow. Despite knowing that things aren’t right, there are some moments that were truly shocking and uncomfortable. Even worse, the ending is incredibly ambiguous, leaving you to wonder what comes next for Callie, Frey, and Josh.
I gave this novel a 4-star rating on Amazon in spite of the uncomfortableness of the plot simply because of Parkin’s writing. Whether it was an inward memory, a conversation between characters, or even an exchange of glances between characters – everything was so amazingly descriptive that I felt I was right there witnessing it in real-time. I was frustrated with a recent book that I read because at the end of the novel I realized I had no idea what the main character looked like. After reading this, I feel like I can see Callie’s fingertips as she was passing a piece of a jigsaw puzzle to Frey. I can picture Noah sitting on the rooftop when anxious and hear Callie’s calm, quiet voice trying to calm him. I can see Callie’s mom dropping her hand at the zoo when Callie was small and trying to share her excitement with her mom, and I can feel her rejection.
The Leftovers certainly won’t leave you smiling with a warm and fuzzy feeling, but I feel that it’s worth reading to experience Cassandra Parkin’s way with words. She painted a picture from beginning to end that, although the picture wasn’t a happy one, will stay with me for quite some time.
*Thanks to NetGalley and Legend Press for providing this ARC in exchange for my honest opinion