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Read With Us: Leave the World Behind Discussion

Okay, readers, the day you’ve been waiting for has arrived . . . it’s time to talk about Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam. Bonny and Kym and I are each posing one question about the book for our online discussion and then we’ll be hosting a Zoom meeting tonight to dig a little deeper with a live chat.

My question has to do with the grocery store trip that Amanda takes right at the beginning of the novel. Do you remember the list of things she purchased? It’s rather pretentious and I think says a whole lot about the lifestyle of this family. Here, I’ll quote a bunch of it for you.

She bought yogurt and blueberries. She bought sliced turkey, whole-grain bread, that pebbly mud-colored mustard, and mayonnaise. She bought potato chips and tortilla chips and jarred salsa full of cilantro . . . organic hot dogs and inexpensive buds and the same ketchup everyone bought. She bought cold, hard lemons and seltzer and Tito’s vodka and two bottles of nine-dollar red wine. She bought dried spaghetti and salted butter and a head of garlic. She bought thick-cut bacon and a two-pound bag of flour and twelve-dollar maple syrup in a faceted glass bottle like a tacky perfume. She bought a pound of ground coffee . . . those fancy crackers you put out when there were guests, and Ritz crackers, which everyone liked best, and crumbly white cheddar cheese and extra-garlicky hummus and an unsliced hard salami and . . . packages of cookies from Pepperidge Farm and three pints of Ben & Jerry’s politically virtuous ice cream and a Duncan Hines boxed mix for a yellow cake and a Duncan Hines tub of chocolate frosting with a red plastic lid, because parenthood had taught her that on a vacation’s inevitable rainy day you could while away an hour by baking a boxed cake. She bought two tumescent zucchini, a ag of snap peas, a bouquet of curling kale so green it was almost black. She bought a bottle of olive oil and a box of Entenmann’s crumb-topped doughnuts, a bunch of bananas and a bag of white nectarines and two plastic packages of strawberries, a dozen brown eggs, a plastic box of prewashed spinach, a plastic container of olives, some heirloom tomatoes wrapped in crinkling cellophane, marbled green and shocking orange. She bought three pounds of ground beef and two packages of hamburger buns, their bottoms dusty with flour, and a jar of locally made pickles. She bought four avocados and three limes . . . it was more than two hundred dollars, but never mind.

Wow, right?

So here’s the question: How does this list reflect her background and her hopes for the days ahead? Think of a trip or a vacation you’ve taken in recent years and how you prepared for it. What do you think your approach to planning a trip says about you? How is it similar or different from Amanda’s approach?

The trips to Cape Cod that I take with my family every summer are pretty similar in concept to the vacation that Amanda and her family are taking. Just like them, we rent a house and, just like them, we mostly eat in. My approach is to plan meals for the week and make an extensive list and do a big shopping trip with little trips for fresh bread or other things later in the week. I definitely tend to splurge at the grocery store when we’re on vacation. I’ll buy the more expensive cheese, the prepared snacks from the deli, the high end olives and crackers and the fancy ice cream.. I indulge to treat myself and my family to things I would normally deem too expensive, to make meal preparation easier, and I justify it by telling myself that it’s still less expensive than eating out.

I suppose that says that I’m a planner who is practical but enjoys little luxuries like fancy cheese. I’m certainly not as boujee as Amanda, though!

I look forward to reading your thoughts on this passage in the comments.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. I remember hearing that list and thinking wtaf?!? When we go away, we generally bring some food from home and our big “buy” is local beer.

    But in light of the nameless disaster that begins to unfold in the story, it seems that there might have been better choices in the food department. I can’t wait for tonight’s discussion!

  2. Not sure if I can trust my memory here–but Amanda was always wanting to fit in, to unapologetically be ‘a type.’ I read this as *her trying to be that* on this vacation. While they’re price-conscious about where to eat out when they’re home, this ‘dream state’ in the grocery store (down to the sexual fantasy about the bag boy) is a chance to live vicariously for the week.
    Looking forward to this evening!

  3. I distinctly remember paying attention to her shopping list when reading the book. We also used to go on family trips to Cape Cod, and we’d rent a house for the two weeks we usually spent there, which meant a big stock-up trip to the Stop and Shop. We would always get some treats, but mostly we bought the things we’d eat at home — stuff to make sandwiches for lunch, cold cereals for breakfast, fresh fruit, some cookies and soda. I think what this list reveals about Amanda is that she’s very much striving to appear that she’s more well off than she is, that she aspires to be one of those women who gets her kids to eat kale and buys the fancy small-batch artisanal pickles and olives and what have you without thinking about the price. But she also buys the comfort food like boxed cake mix (because she’s probably not “domestic” enough to be able or to want to make a cake from scratch).

  4. I’m sure that Amanda was just “too busy” to bother with shopping (or even making a list) beforehand. Heh. I definitely do not wait until I reach my destination for a week-long vacation to shop! I like to plan, because I don’t want to be thinking too hard about what’s for dinner while I’m relaxing… on vacation. Of course, we always end up going to the store, and I splurge on stuff, too, but not the whole shebang… and this isn’t even a shopping list, it’s a list of what she spontaneously purchased.

    Also, I’m no expert, but I do not think $9 for wine is a splurge.

  5. I did wonder about the extent of the list. We always went camping in the summer from the time I was 6 months and I just remember a regular shopping trip when we got there but then we were camping and didn’t have storage for all that. When I go on vacation we usually eat out as it’s just a weekend. I did wonder if they would be able to eat it all during the week as they had a lot of fruits/vegetables that would go bad.

  6. I think Amanda had NO PLAN when she went to the store and just bought what she thought of as she saw it. She bought what she knew would work (hamburger and cheap wine) but then just splurged on anything that “looked” good. I agree with Sarah and her points on Amanda. The list certainly brought her character into view. What a mess she was! Sorry I missed the evening!

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