Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
Credit: Michael Bucher; Ecco

A Brooklyn family’s borrowed summer idyll in the Hamptons becomes the setting for more than a modern comedy of manners in Ruman Alaam’s Leave the World Behind, a zingy dystopian exercise whose blooming absurdities (the less about which you know going in, the better) would seem frankly unbelievable if they didn’t ring so true.

Amanda and Clay and their two teenage offspring have only just begun to settle into the sweet, lazy rhythms of vacation at their luxe Airbnb — long sun-drowsed hours by the pool, unlimited TV time for the kids, extra Pinot for the parents — when a late-night knock comes at the door. It’s the sixtysomething owners, seeking shelter after a city-wide blackout has rendered their Manhattan high-rise suddenly ominous, if not outright unreachable.

Amanda is less frightened by their tale of woe than peevishly put out, her delusions of second-home grandeur rudely pierced by the presence of the people who actually live there. It doesn't help that they're also Black, and, it soon becomes clear, belong to the kind of rarefied income bracket that shows Amanda and Clay's own careful career arcs (he's a professor at City College, she works in advertising) for the middle-class striving it is. But as odd natural phenomena begin to pile up — blank screens where shiny pixels should be, scores of woodland creatures suddenly reacting to strange forces only they seem to understand — the presence of something more sinister cannot be ignored.

Like his fellow New York Times culture writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner, who penned last year's great, fizzy Fleishman Is in Trouble, Alam (Rich and Pretty, That Kind of Mother) has both a golden ear and a gimlet eye for the Sturm und Drang of the city's ever-shifting social's strata; a way of slyly dinging its self-delusions and virtue-signalling without turning cruel or petty. (Though neither is he overly kind; there are few characters here that you'd want to sit next to for too long at a dinner party, let alone permanently befriend.)

Unsurprisingly, the book's rights have already been snapped up by Netflix, where the Emmy-winning Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail will helm a cast led by no less than Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts. The plan is to present it as a feature film, though the full length of a limited series might better serve the busy tangle of ideas on race and class and consumerism and 21st-century malaise contained within Alam's wild World; until then, his bright, audacious words will have to do. A–

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