Monday, 29 July 2013

The Returned - 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 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 was really being pushed at BEA this year and as I thought the concept sounded interesting, especially after having watched the French La Revenants earlier this year, I happily picked it up. I was also told that it had already been picked up as a television pilot. 

I can easily see where this would make a good television show. For one, the French have kind of already done that. Secondly, this story is huge with tons of possibilities for ways to go. When you write a novel that has such a massive scale like this, there are so many stories you can tell. In fact, that was my favorite part of the novel: the short interludes between chapters that would tell you a little bit about another person in the world who had come back. Scenes like the painter who had become famous posthumously, the Nazis that had come back but where just young boys, the parents that couldn't accept their child. I think that was my favorite part of The Returned and a tv show based around that would do well.

The main narrative of the novel, centered around the Hargrave family was both heartbreaking and kind of a lull. The idea behind it, that a son who died as a child comes back when his parents are elderly, is beautiful and painful. The actual execution of it, however, came across kind of, well, not boring but not as deep or meaningful as it could be. I found myself constantly wondering about other characters and what was going on with them. The brief flashes we got of other townspeople dealing with their grief (the pastor who's childhood love came back, the family who came back after being the sole murder of the town) were great and I wish we could have had more with them (especially the family) and a bit less of the Hargraves.

What I found hardest about the novel, though, was the ending. What happened with the returned, as they're called, makes sense and I'm alright with that. It's the other actions of the climax that, when the tension has died down, don't sit right with me. I feel like the ending didn't bring any sense of closure to the Hargraves and actually did them more harm than good, something that seems the antithesis of what the novel wanted to show.

Mott's writing is sparse and lovely, creating mood and atmosphere effortlessly. I would happily read something else by him. This novel is exceptionally well imagined; I simply wish it were better plotted. I love the world he has created, the thoughts he's evoked, the moral quandaries that he's provoked. I just wish he'd spent more time exploring this new and mysterious world.

The Returned comes out in September 2013 from Harlequin MIRA.

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