Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam review – an X-ray of America

This page-turning thriller about class and race in the midst of unfolding catastrophe explores stasis, indecision and the agonies of parenting

An unexpected knock at the door. It’s the narrative spark of children’s jokes, fairytales and campfire ghost stories, of drawing-room dramas and horror film bloodbaths. When a midnight knock breaks the quiet of Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind, any one of these plot creatures might be waiting on the doorstep. Alam’s trope-heavy third novel has the makings of a farce, and the portents of a slaughter.

It is a dark and stormy night. In a field surrounded by woods stands a lone brick house – “the very material the smartest piggy chose because it would keep him safest” – a luxurious Long Island vacation rental that is out of reach of mobile phone service, and out of earshot of the neighbours. The walls are white, the picket fence is white, and inside the house is a white middle-class family of holidaymakers “pantomiming ownership”. The children – Archie and Rose – are sun-kissed and sleeping; their Brooklynite parents – Amanda and Clay – are basking in a post-coital glow. “They’d made a nice life for themselves, hadn’t they?”

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