When I first sat down to read The Returned I was actually very excited. I hard first heard about the book not through any literary circles but while putting together a list of upcoming television series for the 2013-2014 season. Before The Returned had even hit bookshelves it had already been optioned by ABC to become a limited-run series airing this year called Resurrection. The actual air date (at least as far as I know) still needs to be decided upon though it’s probably a safe bet that it will air sometime either during the midseason break or towards the end of the spring run.
Unfortunately, the television series seems to be handling the whole plot a lot differently than the book and I went into the book hoping for more of what I saw in the trailer. Instead I got something else entirely.
In the book, Jacob is not an anomaly and he’s not a deliberate mute either. He’s strange, yes, and he’s suddenly reappeared after wandering alone into a river on his eighth birthday where he drowned and was later found dead. But in The Returned – unlike Resurrection – this has been happening for a while now. The governments of the world have been dealing with people coming back unexpectedly from various time periods for months before Jacob shows up on his parents’ porch again with Agent Matthew Bellamy in tow. His parents have had time to discuss what they think about those who have Returned and they aren’t entirely caught off guard by their son’s reappearance.
Harold and Lucille Hargrave lost their son over thirty years ago and yet suddenly in their fifities or sixties they are the parents of an eight year old again. Except that while they don’t know what this boy is, if he’s real, where he came from… they do start to accept that he is there son. Harold has a particularly had time with everything because for so long he’s felt responsible for Jacob’s death and he’s spent decades putting everything behind him. And Harold’s not the only person whose having issues accepting the Returned. The world has a whole is rioting and waiting in unrest as more and more people reappear and mysteriously disappear again. Young German soldiers from WWII are hunted down in New York City, Japanese suicide bombers show up in the rural midwest, a famous artist who died young returns to sell his work for the millions he never got when he was alive the first time. And some how all of the world’s problems start to converge on the Hargrave family’s native Arcadia, Missouri.
The Returned focuses primarily on the Hargrave family but not exclusively. It sort of follows their struggles accepting that their son is back but also their struggles against the government forces in town who start rounding up the returned and treating them like prisoners. It also focuses on a few other people in Arcadia like the priest, some of Lucille’s returned family members, an old friend of Harold’s who takes up arms against the returned. We also get flashes occasionally of other Returned around the county – including the soldiers, pilot, etc. I mentioned above.
What we very rarely get, though, is any actual insight from the Returned. And I think that was one of the downfalls of the book. Occasionally you got to see what they were thinking but it was rare. Sometimes you got to see what they were thinking when the returned characters spoke or in some of those short clips. But most of the short scenes with other returned we saw were in a weird sort of limited third person that presumed to be slightly first person. We get one of these scenes from the point of view of Jacob but not until the very end of the book. I would have really liked a bit more from them. It would have been nice to see what they were thinking, how they were struggling internally, and what was just going on in their minds as everything unfolded around them.
The author didn’t need to reveal how or why the Returned were back to do that.
It was a glaring hole in the entirety of what was an interesting book. I don’t think that the author explained very well why the government suddenly decided to turn Arcadia into some sort of Returned prison camp. I don’t think the author explained the entirety of the problem that came with the Returned, either. We got news clips from around the world – rioting in Brazil and France – but there were a lot more questions left after. I actually kind of understand why the author did that. This was about a small town and small town families being effected by some strange global phenomena that no one can understand.
And that was something the author did wonderfully.
I think he took small town people and mentalities and worked them into his story and portrayed it all quite well. The way that people reacted was understandable and a little predictable which was made a lot of sense because, hey, small towns are small towns. I think that the author tackled the religious angles and implications pretty damn well, too. I liked having a preacher as one of the point of view characters now and again though I didn’t actually care about his whole side plot beyond that. It removed things from Arcadia a bit too much for me as things were really starting to happen there.
I also really enjoyed Lucille and Harold’s relationship. I think that it really depicted a pretty normal, average Midwestern couple whose done a lot to put a lot of their troubles behind them and only managed to do it so well. I can’t even imagine losing a child and having to live with that for thirty years but the author gave us two very solid characters with their own inner demons who were both struggling with the way the world has become. Harold in particular I think gets the most character development – though at the end we learn a lot more about Lucille – because you can actually see his struggles and see how he falls into things.
And, if you’re looking for a book that’s going to get you teary eyed now and again – this is it. There’s a lot of emotion in this book and it’s a lot of raw emotion that can catch you off guard sometimes. I mean, I teared up on occasion and I’m not much of a crier.
Final Thoughts: I can definitely recommend The Returned. It’s published by a Harlequin imprint but there’s no real ‘romance’ in it per se. The main focus isn’t even Harold and Lucille’s relationship though that’s a major part of it. Any publisher probably would have snapped this one up. It’s well worth a read and it will certainly get you thinking though the lack of any solid answers may be frustrating. Still, I think that if you’re intrigued by the premise of Resurrection that it’s definitely worth reading through the source material first no matter how likely they are to change things up.