Saturday, August 31, 2013

Book Review: "The Returned" by Jason Mott

Most, if not all of us, have had this thought one time or another. What if a person we had lost suddenly returned to us? In Jason Mott's emotionally provocative and intriguing novel, The Returned, the world is confronting this question.

Suddenly, and without warning, people are returning from the dead, at the same age and condition they were in prior to their death. All over the world these people, referred to as "the Returned," are showing up, most often in vastly different places than where they died, looking for those they knew and loved. No one is quite sure what to make of this—are the Returned a blessing, a chance to relive lives lost, or are they the devil in disguise?

It was the day of Jacob Hargrave's eighth birthday party in 1966 when he slipped away from the party and tragically drowned. His parents, Lucille and Harold, spent the next several decades mourning and remembering their son, and comfortably settling into curmudgeonly old age. When Jacob is returned to them, they are unprepared to raise an eight-year-old boy at their age, but his return reawakens Lucille's maternal instincts, as well as Harold's unease, and his questions—is this Jacob really their son? How can this be when he buried him himself? And will they lose him again?

The vast number of the Returned across the globe has brought the world to the brink of insanity, with those returning simply wanting to pick up their lives where they left off, while Tea Party-like movements representing the "true living" start to fear that the Returned might someday outnumber those who have never died. Harold and Lucille's small North Carolina hometown of Arcadia becomes the center of both movements, as the federal government begins assembling internment-type camps for the Returned, while the resentment of some of their neighbors toward the Returned becomes increasingly dangerous.

Just a few days before what would have been my beloved grandmother's 100th birthday, the thought of how wonderful it would be to spend more time with those I've lost is fairly fresh in my mind. The Returned explores many of the emotional responses people might have to such an occurrence—what do you do if the love if your life returned but you moved on after their death? After facing the hurt of loss, are you willing to reopen your heart again to the uncertain possibility of more hurt and loss? Can you blindly love these people even if you're not sure if they're really those you've lost?

I loved the premise of this book and the emotions Mott explored. While, obviously, the main idea of the book is farfetched, he was fairly accurate in dealing with how people would react to such a phenomenon. I only wish the book hadn't spent so much time on brief vignettes of others who had returned at the expense of the Hargraves' story. And while inevitable, I wasn't as interested in all that the government did to deal with these people, or the inevitable confrontation with the irate citizens, although it did bring out some beautiful and emotionally poignant surprises.

This is a tremendously thought provoking book, and Jason Mott is a very talented writer who has created a book worthy of being discussed and debated. I wish it had gripped me more on the whole given the beauty of its central premise, but I still enjoyed reading it.

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