Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Book Review: The Returned

The Returned
Author: Jason Mott
Published: August 27, 2013 by Harlequin MIRA


"Jacob was time out of sync, time more perfect than it had been. He was life the way it was supposed to be all those years ago. That's what all the Returned were."  

Harold and Lucille Hargrave's lives have been both joyful and sorrowful in the decades since their only son, Jacob, died tragically at his eighth birthday party in 1966. In their old age they've settled comfortably into life without him, their wounds tempered through the grace of time.... Until one day Jacob mysteriously appears on their doorstep-flesh and blood, their sweet, precocious child, still eight years old. 
All over the world people's loved ones are returning from beyond. No one knows how or why this is happening, whether it's a miracle or a sign of the end. Not even Harold and Lucille can agree on whether the boy is real or a wondrous imitation, but one thing they know for sure: he's their son. As chaos erupts around the globe, the newly reunited Hargrave family finds itself at the center of a community on the brink of collapse, forced to navigate a mysterious new reality and a conflict that threatens to unravel the very meaning of what it is to be human. 
With spare, elegant prose and searing emotional depth, award-winning poet Jason Mott explores timeless questions of faith and morality, love and responsibility. A spellbinding and stunning debut, The Returned is an unforgettable story that marks the arrival of an important new voice in contemporary fiction. 


Note: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Before I say anything, SPOILER ALERT! BIG BIG BIG SPOILERS AHEAD! Now-- that said-- I WANT you to go out and get your hands on this book! Read it! Read it now! Read it now and then come back and read the rest of my review, and please please please start a conversation about it with me!

So- again- if you have not yet read this novel, STOP READING THIS REVIEW NOW!


I have been sitting with this review for a few days now. I have not been able to stop thinking about this book. I have so many questions. Mr. Mott- if you are out there somewhere reading this review, please, please, please- I would LOVE the opportunity to pick your brain. :)

When I received my email notification that I had been approved for The Returned, I did a little dance. Okay, a BIG dance. I first heard about this book a few months ago from my husband. He was busy reading articles on tv.com (or some similar website), as he is apt to do, and he came across something about an-as-yet-unpublished novel that had ALREADY been optioned as a new network television show. It was about- he said- the dead returning to the world. Coming back to life. Imagine the possibilities... the interruptions to families and loved ones who had built lives since their losses... The implications... We were tossing ideas back and forth. Genius, we said. 

I knew that I HAD to get my hands on this novel. 

Then I got my approval! Thank you, thank you, thank you Harlequin team

It turns out, the book was not exactly what I was expecting nor what I had in mind. But that's okay. As I said, I have not been able to stop thinking about this book. Asking questions. In my opinion, that's what makes a GREAT novel. 

However, it just isn't sitting right. Not the way that I think the author intended. I feel like my experience with the book is incomplete. 

More than insight and reaction,  I want to share my questions. Too many questions that I can't seem to answer, and not the ones you might expect...

What is the purpose of Lucille's death? What did it accomplish? Jacob gets to say goodbye, but then Harold is ultimately left alone. Completely. No house, no wife, no one. Ill. 

What is the significance of Harold's apparent and unexplained illness? (This is one I just can't think about anymore. I've hit a wall in my own brain.)

When do the Returned disappear? Does this matter? If not, why not?

Why did some return and not others? (Other than for plot purposes...)

What makes something "the way it was supposed to be"? In the end, this concept works for the preacher and for Bellamy in their experiences, but I can't understand it for the Hargraves or someone like Fred.

What about the rest of the world? Arcadia "blew up" and all seems calm, but what about the camps everywhere else? What about the space and Malthusian-type problems? What about the bureau? Will no one be accountable?

Mr. Mott- why did you decide to take the story in the direction that you did (the social reaction, militaristic plot) rather than taking the opportunity to dive deeper into investigating the human impact? Just thinking about the storyline about the old Jewish couple hiding 7 returned Nazi soldiers in their home- I am at a loss! That was a moment in my reading that made me stop and say - hmm, he's really got something here! Why not use that real humanity toward your purpose? It's so rich in potential in millions of possible stories. In your author's note, you say you wanted to give your readers an opportunity to read and think and relate, but I worry that readers will lose some of that opportunity because of the path the story takes. Just as the Hargraves never really have the opportunity or the time to become a family again and truly experience what they are living through, I think that readers will lose the chance to reflect on the "what ifs".

What about the welcome home? No one at all seemed beyond themselves with the thrill and the joy of seeing their loved ones returned. As a mother, a romantic, an optimist, I HAVE to believe that there would be at least one story on the face of the planet where someone's heart would be absolutely BURSTING at the prospect. Lucille seems joyful, but reacts as if it is all just expected- "just as it should be". Others are rejecting their returned- some even treating them as something horrifying, inhuman, unwanted. What about the swelling hearts, the holding of children until bodies give out, the raw emotion? Maybe this is exactly what Mr. Mott wanted out of me....

I will say that I recently discovered that Mott has written and released 3 short-story prequels which are available to download for free here. I look forward to reading these and seeing how he develops the concept and fleshes it out. I didn't want to read them before writing this review, though. I wanted to keep my reactions and reflections separate, just in case.

I am also very excited for the potential of the Resurrection TV series (despite its gimmicky name).

So you see how I can feel like something is just MISSING? But I suppose it's the same way with the rules of life and death. Nothing is ever settled. You don't get the answers you need. You can only grow and learn and live.

You can also look to others to share in the experience- learn from one another. So I look to all of you out there to share with me!

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