The Returned, by Jason Mott
Remember the 1999 M. Night Shyamalan movie “The Sixth Sense” with Haley Joel Osment’s infamous line, “I see dead people”?
Well, in Jason Mott’s debut novel The Returned, lots of people are seeing dead people. That’s because, as per the publisher’s description, “all over the world, people’s loved ones are returning from beyond. No one knows how or why, whether it’s a miracle or a sign of the end.”
Among those returning to life is eight year old Jacob Hargrave, who died in 1966. Needless to say, this comes as somewhat of a shock to Harold and Lucille, his now elderly parents. (When greeting him at the door, Harold struggled to recall his only son’s name.) Fifty years have passed since Jacob’s drowning on the day of his eighth birthday party. But there Jacob is, still eight years old, back from the dead.
And Jacob’s bringing a lot of company from the Great Beyond.
In this blockbuster of a fall publishing season, The Returned by debut novelist Jason Mott is getting a lot of buzz. Part of the reason is because Mr. Mott’s novel has already been adapted for television by ABC Studios, Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment and Brillstein Entertainment Partners for a forthcoming drama series called Resurrection.
It’s easy to see why. The Returned has an intriguing premise, one with questions that we’ve all asked ourselves – and some we probably never have. For example, it may be a no-brainer to assume Harold and Lucille would gladly welcome their eight-year old son back into their lives after accepting his death and moving on after fifty years, right?
Maybe. And …maybe not.
With the return of the …well, the Returned, as they are called, comes the arrival of many moral, ethical, and religious questions that the people of Arcadia (the Southern town in which the novel is set) wrestle with. They’re not alone; the Returned are resurfacing all over the globe, often far from the places where they originally lived and died. (We get very brief – as in, a page or two at the most – snippets of other formerly deceased people who are now Returned.) It throws society and government into a conflict as to how, exactly, to deal with all these people.
Conflicted is a good description for my feelings about The Returned, which is based on a dream that Mr. Mott had involving his own deceased mother. Despite not being much of a dystopian fiction reader, I liked the plot and concept of this novel. I felt Mr. Mott did a good job keeping the story realistic, evidenced by phrases showing that this could potentially happen in the very near future:
“‘Things just seem to be getting worse all over,’ the newscaster said. It was a Spanish man with dark features and a light-colored suit. Lucille had a brief impression that he was talking about something to do with finances or the global economy or gas prices or any of the other things that seemed to be getting perpetually worse year on year on year.” (pg. 148)
But in the very same passage, we see how Mr. Mott’s prose tends to be repetitive and wordy (“year on year on year.”) It is heavy on the similes and needed tightening in parts (Instead of “It was a Spanish man,” perhaps simply “A Spanish man wearing a light-colored suit…”) For that reason, the story felt distracting to me at times and the stumblings with the prose often “took me out of” the novel.
Other novelists may not have been skilled enough to return his reader to the plot and core issues. Fortunately, Mr. Mott did. Which is good, because as The Returned demonstrates, there are a lot of multi-layered questions here and Mr. Mott is exceptionally talented at getting his reader to think about them.
“‘Something has happened,’ he belted out, startling the church. ‘Something – the cause of which we have not yet been made privy – has happened.’ He spread his arms. ‘And what are we to do? How are we to react? Should we be afraid? These are uncertain times, and it’s only natural to be frightened of uncertain things. But what do we do with that fear?’” (pg. 53)
“They were all gripped with a feeling that something about the world was betraying them, right at this very moment, and perhaps it had been betraying them for years.
They felt that the world had been lying to them for all their lives.” (pg. 160)
Here, The Returned becomes a commentary on our current society and state of affairs within our country, which speaks to the reason why I think The Returned is having such widespread appeal. Two universal feelings are at play here: the feeling of wanting to control the uncontrollable, and the desire to play the “what-if” game. What we wouldn’t do sometimes for that one last conversation with that person long gone, that one moment of clarity, that one insight of understanding to realize that even if fate had intervened and if circumstances had been altered, the truth wouldn’t change and would in fact still be the same. Passages like these are where Mr. Mott’s poetry background (he has an M.F.A. in poetry from the University of North Carolina Wilmington) shines.
“It was enough to make him see the truth: that no matter how much he had loved her, no matter how much he had wanted her, their romance would not have worked. And in spite of how it turned out for her, even if he had stayed with her all those years ago, if he’d gone off with her and, perhaps, been able to keep her from dying, it wouldn’t have changed anything. The thing that he loved about her would have died the longer she stayed with him until, eventually , she would be gone. Maybe not physically, but all that he loved about her would be gone.” (pg. 268)
I’m curious to see how The Returned will do as a TV series. I’m thrilled for Jason Mott’s success with it and with the novel, and I suspect the show will do well. Despite having some issues with the novel, author Jason Mott has demonstrated that he is a writer worth watching.
If you’d like to read The Returned, you’re in luck! The publisher, Harlequin MIRA, has provided me with a copy of The Returned for one of my blog readers! To enter, simply leave a comment on this post telling me who you would like to see return (it can be a relative, friend, pet, or celebrity). Contest closes September 30, 2013, 11:59 EST. Contest open only to US or Canadian residents only (as per publisher’s rules).
As always, thank you very much to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. I was provided with a copy of The Returned in exchange for my honest review. I did not receive any additional compensation for this post.