The Returned

After reading the blurb of Jason Mott’s The Returned (Harlequin) I felt certain that it would be just the ticket for our reviewer, Tam Jenkin. I told her about the plot, and she agreed… she loves a good ‘undead’ tale as much as I do… and happily took the book off my hands.

It was, nonetheless not at all what she or I expected it would be…

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I have to start by saying I was a little torn by Mott’s novel – it was not at all what I was expecting. I was very excited, being a bit of a fan of zombie stories, the prospect of the dead returning had me intrigued. Interestingly though, The Returned is not a story about the undead at all. Rather it is about segregation, about people fearing the unknown and about how people deal with, and heal after losing a loved one.

the returned‘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.

Whilst reading this novel, we find that Lucille and Harold have lived long unhappy lives since their eight year old son Jacob died in a tragic accident. Rather than remembering Jacob and leaning on one another as family, they have shut out their memories of him, in the hope that they wont hurt any more. This however changes, one random day, when their son arrives at their door, 50 years later. Only Jacob is still exactly as he was when he died – an eight year old boy.

Interestingly, Jacob’s arrival brings with it a twist to the story. Before his return home, aware of the arrival of these ‘returned’ loved ones, Lucille believes that the people who are coming back are devils, that they aren’t natural. But now that her son has returned she can’t deny that Jacob feels real, that he feels like her son.  It brings the reader to think ‘what would I do? Could I accept the returning of my loved one?’

At this point, the government gets involved and takes over the small town of Arcadia to fence The Returned in. The government don’t know how these people have returned, why they are here or what threat they may pose, and so they gather them together and lock them up.

I felt as though I was reading about a concentration camp. It felt as though it were about race and about civil rights. The Returned were treated poorly, the food was slop, the facilities were blocked and smelly and there were not enough places for them to sleep. They were denied visitors and they were denied their freedom, even though they had done nothing wrong.

Jason Mott tells this story in two perspectives, the “True Living” and “The Returned”. This was a clever way of showing the reader how those who’d lost and regained loved ones reacted and also showing how the ones who had returned felt, about their experiences on their return and also in the camp.

I did find the story flow a little clumsy at times and I was also left disappointed at the conclusion. There was no real resolution as to how the government resolved the situation of The Returned’s containment, and no explanation on how these people came about to return in the first place.

In saying that, the last few chapters of Mott’s novel did focus nicely, really effectively, on how The Returned had helped their loved ones to heal, to have a chance for one last moment together, to say what they had wanted to say since their passing, to amend regrets.  I was left wondering – how would you spend your time over if a loved one returned?

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If you’d like to find out more about Jason Mott’s The Returned visit the Harlequin website here.