Poet Jason Mott has struck gold with his debut novel, The Returned. He’s enjoyed starred reviews in the major review journals and landed himself a deal for a TV series based on the book. I had to find out what the buzz is about, so I ripped through the 338 pages in two days. The denouement almost made me late back from lunch.
Harold and Lucille Hargrave have spent the past 50 years coping with the death of their son on his eighth birthday, so when he shows up at their door accompanied by Agent Bellamy from “the Bureau,” they are cast into a quandary of emotion. He appears to be their flesh and blood, sweet son, inexplicably returned from the dead, but he must be something else, like all of the others who are showing up across the world. Are they devils? Is this the end of times? And how will mankind cope with the sudden increasing world population?
Sadly and predictably, it’s determined that the Returned should be interred until their threat to the general population is understood. Harold chooses to stay with his son when he is placed in the newly requisitioned elementary school with the other Returned. Trust and friendship develops between Harold and the sympathetic Agent Bellamy, mostly over games of horseshoes. Meanwhile, Lucille, on her own, copes as best she can, locating Harold’s pistol and hiding a Returned family that was mysteriously murdered years before, an event the small town of Arcadia never quite reconciled.
There are two villains, both manifestations of fear and ignorance, as villains are. There is the hard-nosed, cruel Colonel Willis who sees the Returned as disposable objects and whose story we never learn, and there is the hard luck Fred who’s lost his job and the beloved wife who doesn’t return despite his aching anticipation. In the Returned, Fred finds a convenient target on which to blame his misfortune and recruits a band of followers whose behavior foreseeably escalates.
Mott effectively creates a time bomb that has to explode, and he populates his book with likable, multi-faceted characters and thought-provoking circumstances. Parallels to historic events beg for discussion.