What would you do if, one day, a deceased loved one suddenly reappeared, the same age as when they perished and as if nothing has gone awry? If it were possible for Abraham Lincoln to suddenly return to the White House to find Barack Obama in his stead? This is the world that author Jason Mott drops us into in his debut novel, The Returned.
All over the world, the dead are returning, seeking to reclaim the lives they left 10, 20, sometimes 100-years ago. A soldier who died in battle reappears in the parking lot of a rural gas station. A famous artist who only received recognition and acclaim posthumously returns to the woman who breathed life into his art. Despite its fantastical premise, the story Mott spins is altogether ordinary in so many respects. It begins with the return of Jacob Hargrave, the eight-year old son of Harold and Lucille, both of whom are now in their 70s. As is wont to happen, the story quickly spirals as the number of returned continues to increase and as both their loved ones and the government struggle to come to grips with what this means. For Harold and Lucille, as well as their friends and neighbors, it’s the uncertainty of these people who have re-entered their lives and whether they truly are the people they seem. No good can come from government bureaucracy, prejudice and fear. Before long, the entire town of Arcadia is a detention facility for the returned.
Mott’s strength lies in character development. While I was interested and the story held my attention throughout, I was never more invested in The Returned than in the last quarter of the book when Lucille exhibits poise, strength and self-righteousness that I’ve been telling myself must be very Joan of Arc. In order to avoid spoiling the end of the book, I’ll leave you with just a tease.
“She was dressed in an old, blue cotton dress that came down, flat and even and with no flourishes, almost to her ankles. It was the dress she wore for doctors’ appointments when she wanted to let the doctor know, right from the beginning, that she wasn’t about to accept any news she didn’t particularly like.”
Bottom line? Despite a few critiques I’ve glossed over here, The Returned is worth a read.