Clay and Amanda are a New York couple with two children – out on a much-needed vacation. And, they choose a location where there is no one around, a serene, almost inaccessible place, a spot that would give them that space and time they so long for, even if for a brief time. When they arrive at this remotely-placed house with all amenities, they realise that it is much more than what they had imagined and they are happy.
For the children, Archie and Rose, the situation is not quite to their liking when they see that access to the outside world would be severely limited as all communication modes remained out-of-bounds. Conditioned to seeing and defining life primarily digitally, they do not even look beyond their screens as their parents drive them to the house: “The phones worked on them like those bulbous flutes did on cobras. None of them really saw the highway landscape. The brain abets the eye; eventually, your expectations of a thing supersede the thing itself.” As they settle into this vacation-home where time seems to come to a standstill and leisure is all for them to soak in, the children venture out into what seems to be the woods, sprung out of almost nowhere, their movement undetected by the parents.
Meanwhile, the owners, who had rented them the space, suddenly arrive, a move which completely takes them by surprise, and more than that, Clay and Amanda see it as an intrusion into their privacy. After all, they had already paid for their vacation. GH and Ruth, the couple who are now guests in their own house, apologetic for the turn of events, refer to a ‘blackout’ that compel them to come home unwarranted. Not much is known of the world in this haven that is now a locked-in space, and these two families, brought together without choice but compulsion, try hard to make sense of where they stand and what it looks like to be shut off from the world they know. The process of getting to know how they relate to each other slowly emerges, and Amanda, for instance, sees herself for all her difference from Clay: “A spouse should have her own life, and Amanda’s was quite apart from his. Maybe that helped explain their happiness.” Distinctively uncommon in what they sought to define themselves by, they realise that the materiality of existence was not something they could expect to clutch on to and believe in that to guide them through the pathway of life: “Perhaps that was a fundamentally American desire, or just a modern urge, to want a house, a car, a book, a pair of shoes, to embody these contradictions.”
Specific, and with a purpose, this getaway vacation now becomes a pressure-building exercise, and they await the ticking of the clock to yield a road out of this dead-end. Interestingly, the organised lifestyle begins to collapse, and in the absence of ‘reason’, they cannot access anything that is not familiar to them. So heavily dependent on the ‘system’ to work, stark realisations about the limits of human understanding strike them hard: “The world was vast but also small and governed by logic…Morality was vanity, in the end.” GH and Ruth seem to regret the very enterprise of lending the house and with no ostensible way out of it, they fondly long for their grandchildren, not knowing whether any reunion would ever be possible. This was a situation that brought their own understanding into the spotlight and nothing seemed to work now, only acceptance of how poorly placed they were now: “True intelligence was accepting how limited one’s intelligence always is.” Leave the World Behind, the novel by Rumaan Alam where this dystopic experience finds its narrative framing, serves also as a checkbox, a stock-taking exercise which looks at the question of contemporary existence, its starkness exposing the cover of continuity and ease which appears so much to govern our modern lifestyles.