A few nights ago, Harold asked me to go to a reading at Flyleaf with him, for a new novel called The Returned. I’d actually heard of this book before, but mentally translated “story in which the dead return” as “yet another book about zombies,” and wasn’t too interested. I’m glad I went, though, since Jason Mott’s The Returned is actually a magical realism adventure about having just a little more time with lost loved ones.
I want to tell you more about this book, so you’ll know it’s not zombies and you’ll want to read it, but I also don’t want to give a lot of it away. The story is not so much plot-driven as an unfolding new world, made up of small and large narratives about what happens when the dead return. The largest storyline features a cranky old Southerner called Harold, whose eight-year-old son drowned decades ago, but returns, asking for peaches and telling elementary school jokes. (At the signing, my Harold talked to the author about how Harold is such an old man’s name, of course.)
The best part is that no story arc is purely good or purely bad. When a young boy returns to his parents, they’re delighted to have another chance at being a family and seeing their beloved lost son, but it also highlights how aged and aging the parents have become in the years since their son died. When a young woman sees her fiance return, her hard won closure and her affection for him battle. There are also three e-prequels set in the world of The Returned, with more of the connected and self-contained stories.
The real sadness in the book comes as more and more of the returned appear, and what was miraculous becomes a logistics problem of new arrivals appearing in random places. Some may need to get back to their families and some may not have any families, any money or any homes. Mott’s first two books are poetry, as every line of The Returned shows, and this is a sad and beautiful imagining.