The Returned by Jason Mott

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 17182421only 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 whole idea of something like this happening is profound and an intriguing idea for a novel.  You could think about the repercussions of this scenario all day and probably still have more thinking to do the next.  I’ve heard hype about this book for a couple of months and expected a lot – maybe I expected too much, but I was left feeling a little cheated.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked The Returned.  If the world had more people like Harold and Lucille Hargrave, it would be a better place.  They were just good people all the way to their core and even after being thrust into a surreal situation, with chaos all around, their actions were admirable and courageous and most likely how we all hope we’d behave under the same set of circumstances.

I couldn’t help liking Agent Martin Bellamy, either.  Many books I’ve read portray government agents as cold and heartless, only carrying out orders.  That wasn’t the case with Bellamy – he was helpful, sympathetic, empathetic, and compassionate.  However, despite my instant connection to these three memorable characters, I never felt the same connection to Jacob.  Certainly, as a parent, I understood Lucille and Harold’s need to protect him, but to me, his character development was lacking.

I was hoping for answers to critical questions and some form of resolution by the end of the book, but that didn’t happen.  The whole situation is one of fantasy, so maybe the author wanted to leave it up to the reader to decide the logistics of how, why, where, etc.

The writing was masterful (I loved the banter between Harold and Lucille) and the author was very able to portray the emotions of the characters.  Although the pacing lagged a little in the middle, I was still anxious to see what happened.

The Returned is definitely worth reading and I predict it will be the selection of many book clubs in the next year and the subject of many heated debates.  Just don’t expect all the issues to be resolved at the end.

I received a digital ARC of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.

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