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.
The premise of this story is utterly fantastic and I read, recently, in PEOPLE Magazine that Mr. Mott’s debut novel was film/TV optioned by Brad Pitt’s company. This is a good thing because I think the film adaptation will be better than the actual book itself.
I wanted to love this book. I wanted to like this story.
But I didn’t.
Nothing really happens — And So Much Could Have. This Could Have Been A Great-Great-Great Book.
I felt that Mr. Mott didn’t want the book to be about religion. And it wasn’t. I felt that he didn’t want it to be Political. And it wasn’t. I felt that he wanted it to be a quiet book about a couple in their 70’s that lost their 8-year-old son, Jacob, 50 years earlier who, suddenly, appears on the doorstep with a Government Agent. I have no doubt that parents and loved ones wish for this very fact each and every day.
The plot was great. Execution… well…
I wanted fireworks. I wanted questions. I wanted answers. But not much really happens. Harold Hargrave (Jacob’s dad) doesn’t want the boy. “He isn’t my son” but his wife, Lucille, does.
I kept thinking: Jacob is still eight. His parents are in their 70’s. If I were Jacob, I wouldn’t want to stay with them. They would be strangers to me. But, I digress. This isn’t my main issue with the story.
The Government Agent (Martin Bellamy) gets to know the family, because, you know, there’s a stack of paperwork to fill out. No one asks Jacob how he returned, why he’s returned, or what he knows. And if it is asked, it’s so glossed over and not answered, that many of the scenes do not add to the story whatsoever. Do you want to know what I’ve would have done instantly? I would have dug up that boy’s grave to find out if a body was still there.
Instead Harold Hargrave avoids the boy about as much as Lucille never lets Jacob leave her sight (which made sense, all things considered about this death). And Jacob’s a good boy. Always yes, ma’am this and yes, sir that. But that’s it. Jacob Hargrave # 2 doesn’t have a personality (except his love for candy). No character. Even when Jacob and Harold are locked up by the Bureau of the Returned, it’s just accepted by every single person in the world, Lucille, and the town of Arcadia. It’s nice, however, that Lucille is able to bring them food and fresh clothing. So, there’s that.
A couple of individuals (Fred Green and a few other misfits) have heartburn about The Returned, but their anger doesn’t seem real. It’s mostly juvenile-style actions they take against The Returned (the Wilson family sort of comes out of the blue in the story with zero introduction before that Church scene), and the Hargrave family.
Even Colonel Wallis (once the military roles into town) seems like a menacing guy without much substance behind it. There are a few military-style interrogation scenes that could have ramped up the tension.
Near the end, as violence comes into play, I had hoped that the ending would be explosive (figuratively speaking) in that, once all is revealed, the quietness of the book would make sense; that it was lulling me into a false sense of security. But it ends just as quietly as it begins. There is one part, however, when Jacob Hargrave’s “soliloquy” finally comes at the end, that a couple of things made sense about the river, music, and why the boy might have gone to the river on the day he died, and I was like: “Aha – this should have been closer to the front of the book, not at the end.”
After I finished reading and placed the book down, I was let down by the novel. Was the story about love, parental love, and the love Agent Martin Bellamy had for his own mother?
Was it about The Returned?
We never find out why they returned, how they returned, and, after everything ends, why they’ve disappeared into thin air. I felt zero resolution from start to finish.
Was the story about fear? Fear of the unknown?
The reaction by many of The True Living was caused by fear. For the few months that The Returned were back and living on this Earth, they were not treated as equal citizens, rounded up, and some, killed.
My disappointment with the book is that I hoped and expected a different kind of story. It wasn’t that story.
If you enjoy quiet, slow-building novels, then I would recommend The Returned to you. If you enjoy fast-paced, tension-filled, suspenseful narratives with an edge to them, then you may not enjoy The Returned.