REVIEW: The Returned by Jason Mott

TheReturned

Description from Amazon:

“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.

***

I received a copy of Jason Mott’s debut novel The Returned from NetGalley to read and review. I was thrilled to get it because two of my lovely coworkers made it to BookExpo America, and they said this was one of the very highly anticipated novels from the expo. To be perfectly honest, the fact that the book was published by Harlequin scared me. I associate them with bodice-ripping romances, which are not on my radar at all. A little bit of reading up on The Returned had me intrigued enough that I had to find a copy. Be warned that my review below contains some spoilers.

This was one of those amazing, soul-crushing books that will sit heavy on your mind long after you’ve finished it. The premise is beyond interesting: people have suddenly begun to return from the dead. No explanation, and no rhyme or reason as to who returns or where they return. It is something most people have thought about. What would happen if our loved ones could return? What would we say to them? I sometimes find myself thinking about what would I say to my deceased family members if I could see them just one more time. But Jason Mott reminds us that it isn’t so simple.

I love the flow of this novel. The main story follows Harold and Lucille as they deal with the return of their son Jacob, who drowned in 1966. Interspersed throughout are stories of various others who have returned and the living family members grappling with this unexplainable phenomenon. While there is confusion throughout regarding the return of these people, you see it rather quickly morph into suspicion. Suddenly, Harold and Lucille’s small town is turned into a large holding cell for the Returned.

The characterization in The Returned was excellent. The suspicious townspeople who quickly turn against the Returned and attempt to drive them out of town, the family who was brutally murdered by a passing stranger and Return together only to be shunned by their friends and neighbors, the Bureau agent who never really seems to believe in the abilities of his department to solve the issue of the Returned and who ends up being a surprising ally, and the couple who tragically lost their son decades ago only to have him show up on their porch – Harold, the man who makes up jokes with his son, and Lucille, the devoutly religious woman who has a deep love of finding the perfect word for every situation. In the beginning, Lucille appears to be far more receptive to the return of their son Jacob, but you find out in the most heartbreaking way that things are not always how they appear.

This is not an action-packed novel. Most of the actual action occurs at the very end. Up to that point, it is a meandering, slow buildup of tension. I believe that what made me love this book so much is Jason Mott’s raw talent. So many authors could have taken this concept and cranked out a mildly entertaining, mediocre novel, but Mott crafted a beautiful story that continues to stay with me weeks after I finished reading.

I believe that most people will find the poignancy and beauty in the novel, but it is not for everyone. If you want constant action, full explanations, and happy endings, you would be better served elsewhere.

Jason Mott has also written several short stories set in the same universe, “The First,” “The Sparrow,” and “The Choice.” The Kindle editions are free. You can access the first two here and here, and the third will be available here beginning August 1.

TheFirstThe SparrowTheChoice

The Returned will be available beginning August 27, and a pilot is currently being filmed for a television show based on the novel (the show is called Resurrection). I highly recommend the book, and I plan on tuning in to the show when it airs.

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