The Returned by Jason Mott

By Ekta R. Garg

August 14, 2013

Rated: Bookmark it!

When the dead come back to life, people across the world find themselves caught in a dilemma: should they accept their loved ones as if nothing has changed?  Or should they reject them as apparitions, devils, and harbingers of the end of the world?  And exactly why have the dead started coming back?  Jason Mott offers readers this fascinating premise in his eloquent debut novel, The Returned.

In 1966 in the small town of Arcadia, North Carolina, Harold and Lucille Hargrave’s only son, Jacob, dies in an accident.  The Hargraves survive the tragedy and manage to put their lives back together; decades pass, and the couple has settled comfortably in old age when in present day a federal agent knocks on their door and brings Jacob with him.  Lucille praises God and throws her arms and heart wide open for the boy; Harold holds back, not knowing quite what to think.  He doesn’t even know whether he can acknowledge the boy as a real person.

Arcadia becomes the Petri dish for the Returned throughout the world.  While other cities and countries deal with the Returned in their own way, the newly-formed International Bureau of the Returned begins to view Arcadia as the model for other communities where the dead have come back to life.  People in Arcadia don’t necessarily get any more answers than those in other towns—Arcadia’s residents, too, wonder why the Returned have begun to appear and why some dead loved ones haven’t returned at all—but the town’s characteristics make it an ideal microcosm for the Bureau as its administrators try to figure out how to help people by trying to figure out just what is going on.

In time, however, even Arcadia’s residents become divided, and Lucille and Harold experience the differences firsthand: Lucille slowly starts to doubt the wondrous quality of Jacob’s “miraculous” return.  In a twist of events Harold gets to spend time with Jacob with no other responsibilities, and he begins to see the boy as a boy.  And just as the transformation takes place inside of Harold and Lucille, the situation with the Returned takes an unexpected turn—and Arcadia’s residents find themselves faced with a life-altering choice.

While author Jason Mott makes his debut as a novelist with this book, his poetry and short stories have prepared him well for The Returned.  Mott balances the elegance of his prose with wit, and readers will find themselves engaged from beginning to end:

“Lucille shook her head.  ‘I don’t have time for…nonsense,’ she said, standing in spite of the heaviness of fatigue that hung in her limbs like sacks of flour.  ‘…Don’t you sit out here and catch pneumonia.  This rain will kill you.’

‘I’ll just come back,’ Harold said.”

Readers may ask the obvious—How can people come back from the dead?  And what happens to them next?—but Mott doesn’t try to unravel any mysteries of the universe.  Instead he provides an intimate look at the dilemmas of Arcadia’s residents, and readers end up with a book containing the emotional intensity of a Nicholas Sparks novel but missing the headiness of an overdone romance.  The result: a book that hits all the right expressive notes and ends in a surging symphony.

I highly recommend The Returned for anyone who enjoys excellent writing along with a thought-provoking story.


What the ratings mean:

Bookmark it!–Read this book and then buy it and add it to to your own collection.  It’s definitely worth it!

Borrow it–Check this one out from the library; it’s a worthy read, but think twice before spending your hard-earned money on it.

Bypass it–Free time is precious.  Don’t spend it on this book!

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