By the Book @ Rogers Memorial Library

The Returned, by Jason Mott

“Jacob was home now.  Irrevocably.  The spare room had been converted back into his bedroom and the boy had settled into his life as if it had never ended to begin with.  He was young.  He had a mother.  He had a father.  His universe ended there.”

In 1966, on his eighth birthday, Jacob William Hargrave died.  The townspeople of the small, Southern town of Arcadia searched high and low, until his father, Harold, found his body.  Lucille, Jacob’s mother, and Harold mourned the unthinkable loss and continued on with their lives, childless.  Fifty years later, Harold opens his door to find a stranger in a suit and a small boy smiling at him.  Jacob has returned.

Although their son’s reappearance surprises Harold and Lucille, they realize that Jacob is not the first, nor the only person to miraculously appear.  All around the world, people who have been laid to rest have come back to life, in the same condition they were in when they died.  Known as the “Returned,” they appear naked and in random places, sometimes very far from the place they perished.

The United States government quickly creates an agency to handle the logistics of finding homes for the Returned.  Sometimes families don’t want to welcome back the dead.  Agent Bellamy, the government employee charged with Jacob’s care, must ask Harold and Lucille whether they wish to take Jacob in.  The Hargraves welcome Jacob back, full of little boy energy and all the bad jokes that Harold taught him, but Harold remains skeptical.  How could this be the same boy that they lost?

Outside the small town of Arcadia, the phenomena of the Returned has thrown the world into chaos.  Are they angels from heaven, or are they a trick of the devil?  How is the world going to feed and house this rapidly growing population?  The American government tries to find ways to deal with the resettlement and care of so many people who are legally dead.  The International Bureau of the Returned is formed and the processing of the Returned begins — “Of course, even for people returning from the dead there was paperwork.”  Soon the government decides it must create a place for the Returned, and chooses an abandoned school in the obscure town of Arcadia.  The small town will never be the same.

The Returned, by Jason Mott, raises issues of family love, responsibility, loss, grief, and faith.  Stories of some of the other Returned provide intermissions from the Hargrave’s tale.  A Jewish family takes in Nazi soldiers who appear in Rochester; an old woman with Alzheimer’s struggles to remember her son; an artist returns from the 1920’s and seeks out a woman who championed his art long after his death.  These stories add a poignancy and richness to the book and allow readers to see the confusion, fear and occasional joy experienced by those who find themselves alive again.

Although The Returned sounds like a work of science fiction, in the end, it’s a story about family — how it’s defined and what’s owed to parents, siblings, spouses and children.  This moving book will touch your heart and make you consider your own family.  In the author’s note, Jason Mott writes, “My hope is that the reader can enter this world and find the unsaid words and reconciled emotions of their own lives played out within these pages.”  That’s a lofty goal, but if you give this intriguing novel a try, you mind find that his hope becomes fulfilled.

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