Title: The Returned
Author: Jason Mott
No. of Pages: 352
Origins: Harlequin MIRA and NetGalley
Release Date: 27 August 2013
Bottom Line: Surprisingly introspective novel
“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.”
Thoughts: Jason Mott’s The Returned is nothing like the synopsis would indicate. While readers might open the book expecting a good speculative fiction novel, what they find is something much more contemplative and less fantastic. The returning dead are not the main focus of the story but rather the impetus for the story. As such, the reasons behind their return and later second disappearance remain unsolved mysteries left for the reader to interpret based on his or her own belief systems.
The characters spend most of their energy not attempting to solve the riddle of how these people are returning from the dead but instead trying to interpret the meaning behind why they are returning. Whether the townspeople view the Returned as a religious symbol of redemption or of damnation, worthy of reverence or of fear and loathing, their responses will mirror a reader’s own doubt and confusion. The best part is the fact that Mr. Mott carefully avoids presenting any outright answers. Rather, he leaves the conclusion-making to the characters and subsequently to the readers. For, the characters’ introspection forces readers to do their own examination of the facts as presented in the novel and come to their own conclusions as to the meanings, if any, behind what occurs.
Speaking of the characters, for the most part, they are fairly one-dimensional and stereotypical. There is some character development, but just like with the mystery surrounding the Returned, the characters are not the main point of the novel either. The lack of fully-fleshed characters are okay given they are also an means to the end; readers are too busy justifying or judging characters’ actions based on the few facts given and their own values.
The Returned is a surprising novel in that it is much more religious-based than science fiction, philosophical rather than suspenseful. In a sense, what occurs in Harold and Lucille’s tiny southern town is nothing more than a symbol for the ongoing religious and political tensions in the Middle East and throughout the globe. The Returned and their loved ones are thrust into a world where all former knowledge about the human lifespan no longer applies, and rather than searching out why this is happening, they separate into factions spent fighting each other versus working together to unravel the mystery. More so than the mysterious Returned, the fighting and eventual government involvement is an indictment of today’s uncompromising society that prefers fists over mediation. In his focus on the whys rather than the hows, Mr. Mott creates a novel that forces introspection and evaluation and leaves a reader pondering the definition of life as well as our treatment of that life. It may not be what a reader expects when first starting the novel, but it makes for an enjoyable reading experience.