How Different Is 'The Leftovers' From The Book? Tom Perrotta's Novel Is Drastically Different
Two percent of the world's population may have vanished three years ago on HBO's newest drama The Leftovers , but that's not the only change undergoing the outwardly sleepy (and inwardly chaotic) town of Mapleton, New York. In the course of adaption Tom Perrotta's 300-some-page novel into a multi-season television series, executive producer Damon Lindelof had to make some departures of his own. Characters have been altered, relationships have been changed, plots have been rewritten, all in an effort to increase the story's longevity. Nothing and nobody has been safe from this exercise in dramatic license.
So for those of you who haven't read the source material and are curious — or for those of you who've read it but can't remember the specifics — here's everything that's different so far between book Mapleton and TV Mapleton.
Kevin Garvey is basically a totally different person.
The Leftovers differs from most adaptations in that the single thing that has changed the most is actually its protagonist. In the book, Kevin is a mild-mannered and genial businessman who is elected mayor after The Departure. On the show, Kevin is a hot-tempered police chief who may or may not be going crazy like this lunatic father. Obviously, part of the reason for this change is our society’s current obsession with antiheroes. But Lindelof also wanted to place his protagonist at the center of the action, which is easier to do with a cop than a politician.
There's a lot more violence.
That Heroes’ Day celebration that serves as the climax for the first episode, where the Guilty Remnant shows up with signs reading “Stop wasting your breath” happens in the book too, except then this happens: “the people in white lowered their letters, turned around, and drifted back into the woods.”
Changing that peaceful confrontation into an all-out riot is indicative of the show’s increased focus on violence. Those dog murders? They were but a mere paragraph mention. Kevin beating up a GR member? Never happened. Matt braining a thief outside a casino? Nope. Tom shooting a SWAT guy? Get real. The turmoil in the book is much more emotional than physical.
Nora Durst & Matt Jamison are siblings?!?
In the book, Nora (the woman who lost her entire family) is one of the last friends Matt has in Mapleton after he alienates nearly everyone with his newsletter exposing The Departed’s darkest secrets. But he drives even her away when he publishes an edition advertising the fact that her husband cheated on her.
This same basic relationship still holds its form on the show: Nora is one of the last people friendly with Matt, but he effectively ends their friendship by telling her the truth about her husband. However, there’s one major change: they’re now siblings, despite there having been no family ties between them on the page.
Reverend Jamison is a much bigger deal.
Speaking of Matt Jamison… The disgraced reverend is barely more than an antagonistic presence in the book, flitting around the edges of events, pissing people off with his newsletter. But you don’t cast the Ninth Doctor (Who) if you’re not going to make him a major player. Indeed, there’s already been one episode entirely devoted to Christopher Eccleston’s pariah, filled with events that never occurred on the page.
When Perrotta’s novel beings, Matt has already lost his church and his family (his wife left him in disgrace). The third episode of the HBO show featured Matt’s ill-fated battle to maintain possession of his church, and it was revealed that his wife hadn’t left him, but was in fact in a coma after a car crash on the day of The Departure.
Tom's got a different dad.
Reverend Jamison isn’t the only one whose family has undergone drastic changes in the course of Lindelof’s adaptation. In the most recent episode, it was revealed that Kevin is not, in fact, Tom’s biological father (though he is Jill’s). Laurie brought Tom from a previous marriage and Tom's father was a drunk who left them. Kevin’s promise to take care of her and her son is what fuels his guilt after they both leave him post-Departure.
This is all fabricated for the series. In the book, Tom is 100 percent a Garvey, and fell in with Holy Wayne’s crowd after being introduced to the hug-healer by a college friend — not out of some misguided rebellion against an imperfect stepfather.
There's a bunch of seemingly supernatural stuff.
The Sudden Departure is admittedly an inexplicable event of supernatural origins. But other than that instigating incident, there’s absolutely nothing fantastical about Perrotta’s novel. Which makes Lindelof’s version of The Leftovers all the more confusing. What’s up with that deer that Kevin keeps seeing around? Or the vanishing dog killer? Or Reverend Jamison’s holy pigeons? Or the homeless man with prophetic dreams about Christine? Are these actually supernatural occurrences? Or are they random events that the characters are assigning meaning to in their desperate search for answers?
The Guilty Remnant is a lot more proactive.
The Guilty Remnant is one of the few things that has been transferred pretty much wholesale from the page to the screen. The white clothes, the vow of silence, the constant smoking, and the traveling in pairs are all straight from Perrotta’s imagination. There's one exception: the cult seems a lot more proactive in the television version than they did on the page.
In the book, the GR is pretty content to stalk their targets and live peacefully in their commune. But in the past couple of episodes, the onscreen iteration has committed a couple of acts that would seem out of place for their literary counterparts. First, they bought Matt’s church right out from under him and moved in. Then they broke into people’s houses while everyone was at a dance and stole every single picture from every single frame in the town. It’s hard to imagine the complacent cult from the book executing such a risky mission. But it only goes to show that, like most things in Lindelof’s version of Mapleton, there’s way more to them than meets the eye.