The Returned

Jacob was time out of sync, time more perfect than it had been. He was life the way it was supposed to be all those years ago. That’s what all the Returned were.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.

With spare, elegant prose and searing emotional depth, award-winning poet Jason Mott explores timeless questions of faith and morality, love and responsibility. A spellbinding and stunning debut, The Returned is an unforgettable story that marks the arrival of an important new voice in contemporary fiction.

The Returned by Jason Mott

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

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There’s this line in The Returned that can describe my mood throughout the book.

…but mostly the soldier only stood-or sometimes even sat- at the barricade, looking either very detached or very bored, depending on the lightning at that particular moment.

Depending on the POV at that particular page, I either dozed or just skimmed through the pages. No, not really. It’s weird but I can never skim through anything; I just gotta take it ALL in, no matter how constipated* or uninterested I feel.

*Yeah, constipated!

I believe the problem here lies with me. I couldn’t feel for these characters, I couldn’t sympathize, much less empathize with them. With no child, no dear departed, no beloved, I still do have a vivid imagination. Yet, this story barely moved me. More than halfway through the novel, I was literally looking out for the last pages. However, besides the main story of the Hargraves and their Returned son, the main characters of the novel, there were little snippets of other Returned’s(as they are called) that got to me. Guess, I’m not so stoic after all.

There was this girl whose parents didn’t want her even when she was alive; and the senile woman who was simply proud of her son, the Nazi boys who died in one war and woke up to instigate another; the priest in love with a dead girl and the family whose only fault was their murder; also, the artist who came back to find the woman who brought him back long before.

And the final one of Jacob’s.

These stories, and many others, of barely two-three pages, affected me in a way that the main story never did. The short escapes into various lives/un-lives were brimming with raw realism and had a fleeting tender quality that, I felt, was lacking in the main story. The fact that they didn’t need useless, endless ‘telling’ of emotions, that they gave a provided a wider view of the tensions in the world, probably worked in their favor.

As it turns out, sticking through the book paid off. As in, negative paid off, but not as adverse a negative as it was before. As in, lessened negative. As in, ah- what the hell! Like, my interest was -15 before and the last few hundred pages made it -4 or something.

It’s either the seditious baseness of my nature, or maybe the reader in me prefers action and locomotion, but the last few hundred pages pleased me. Not to spoil the book for you or anything but *ahem*

Who wouldn’t love her? Okay, maybe her grandchildren and the person at the end of that gun.

The writing didn’t work for me and consequently, Harold and Lucille never reached out to me. It was less of a storytelling and more like a recital of… something- something really boring! It never engaged me, despite the promising premise.

Lucille was a flat character from the beginning and with very little personality. On the other hand, Harold had a good start and indicated towards being/developing as a character of depth but the delivery wasn’t efficient. His personality and dimensions were lost a few chapters into in the book. As an instance, take Jack and Mabel from The Snow Child(fabulous book, btw. you haven’t read? you make me so sad)- similar circumstances, but the characters were so much more realistic and colorful. These two weren’t. Considering that Jason Mott‘s an established poet, I just expected a bit more ‘showing’ of emotions in the prose, again like Eowyn Ivey managed so perfectly. Moreover, the constant shift in POV’s in every paragraph was confusing, at best, and disorienting, at worst. The lines tell us about the child and affinity for hiding and how he’s looking at the colonel for a few lines, then the next few paragraphs are devoted to describing how the colonel is feeling, before jumping back straight into the boy’s head again.

Still, I think I just might check out the author’s short stories. I certainly hope so.

On the whole, I have no clue who I’d recommend this book. I guess, you have patience? Human heart? A bit of something special that I don’t? Well, you’re in luck! This just might be your book.

A review copy was provided by the publishers.



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