REVIEW: THE RETURNED BY JASON MOTT

THE RETURNED

Author: Jason Mott
Mira RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

17182421Author Jason Mott raises some interesting questions in his debut novel, The Returned. How do people react to things, events or people they don’t understand? When change is forced upon people, how do they react? Who stands up for the rights of those who have had their rights suppressed? What happens when we die?What would you do if someone who was dead suddenly returned to you? Would you celebrate? Or, would the changes time had wrought in your life make it hard for that person to fit? It’s a different take on the zombie/walking dead genre, one that focuses less on horror, and more on authentic reactions.

I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the novel is set in fictional Arcadia, North Carolina; the word Arcadia, as well as being an ancient Greek rural region, often refers to “any real or imaginary place offering peace and simplicity”. The Arcadia of The Returned is a small rural town where not a lot happens and most people seem to lead simple, relatively peaceful lives. Until it all changes and the innocence of the town is forever lost … and peace and simplicity along with it. At the centre of the story is elderly couple, Harold and Lucille Hargrave, both in their seventies. They’re settled in their life, passing their days niggling at each other over trivial things, but buried deep are memories of Jacob, their only child who drowned aged eight years old. Time has tempered the hurt, but the memories, unlike their son, never died.

‘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.’

When Jacob mysteriously appears on their doorstep — flesh and blood, their sweet, precocious child, still eight years old, they are divided in their opinions. Harold cannot agree that this boy is really his son, because people don’t just return from the dead, like the Biblical Lazarus; Lucille thinks it’s a miracle (despite earlier saying it was the work of the devil). They’re not alone in what they are experiencing — all over the world people’s loved ones are returning. Is it a miracle they should just accept? Is it a sign of the end? Or is it something sinister that must be stopped? Chaos ensues worldwide as more and more Returned appear, with governments and people taking drastic action to protect themselves from whatever the Returned represent; in Arcadia, a microcosm of Earth, the community teeters on collapse as its members, the Hargraves included, are forced to confront a new reality.

What struck me most about The Returned was Mott’s poetic turn of phrase; at times it was sparse, others times it was evocative and emotional. The rumbling trucks are the harbingers of “change and irrevocability, consequence and permanency”; the pastor is a mountain to his wife’s “flower”. I loved this paragraph from Lucille’s point of view:

There reached a point in a lifetime when everything that could be done to make a person cry should have come and gone. And while she still felt things, she didn’t care for crying— maybe she had spent too many years with Harold, whom she had never seen cry. Not once. But now it was too late. She was crying and there was nothing to be done about it, and for the first time in a great many years, she felt alive.

Back to the pastor/wife, mountain/flower imagery: Arcadia in ancient Greece was a mountainous region known for the pastoral innocence of its people; I love the metaphor of the pastor as a mountain of a man, shaken from deep within, and his wife (never named) as a symbol of innocence.

She stepped in front of him— a flower standing before a mountain. The mountain stopped at her feet, as it always had. “Do you still love me?” she asked. He took her hand in his. Then he leaned down and kissed her gently. He held her face in his hands then and traced his thumb over her lips and kissed her again, long and deep. “Of course I do,” he said softly. And it was the truth he spoke. Then he lifted her with great gentleness and affection, and moved her aside.

Beautiful prose aside, there were times that I felt the pacing was uneven causing my attention to wander, but for the most part, I felt the writing and deeper story outweighed these flaws. Mott, a poet, has transferred his poetic skill to prose beautifully and I look forward to watching his work develop further. I will definitely read future works by this writer because I love the fact that he made me think about the story long after I’d finished.

Click here to read an extract or just watch the trailer below.

Available from good bookstores and Harlequin. This copy was courtesy of Harlequin Australia.

Bookish treat: I just ate a Croque Monsieur (toasted sandwich French-style). Great comfort food after a thought-provoking read.