I don’t know what it is about stories like this (and like The Postmortal and the fourth series of Torchwood) that I like so much, but I really really like them. People living when they shouldn’t be living, a world dealing with a sudden overpopulation crisis, people being complete assholes and other people being practically saintly, the government having to step in and do something right for the world but not necessarily right… I am a sucker for this plot.
In this particular iteration, the population crisis is caused by the sudden reappearance of previously dead people — not zombies, just no longer dead or somehow never dead, that part’s not really explained — in random places around the world. At first these Returned are a curiosity, and the world governments create a bureau to investigate the phenomenon and get the Returned back to their loved ones when possible. But some of those loved ones, and many of those without Returned loved ones, are hesitant to embrace these previously dead people as actual people, and soon the Returned are being rounded up and put in camps, as you do.
The book follows mainly the story of an older couple whose fifty-years-dead small child shows up on their doorstep. The couple has to deal with their feelings about their son (both the one they remember and the one they have now), their lives without him, and how to become parents again, all while dealing with the government and the opinions of their small-town North Carolina neighbors.
In between the chapters about this family, there are small vignettes about other Returned — how they came back, what they’re up to now, and how the rest of the world that is not small-town North Carolina is dealing with all this. There are also a couple scenes that give you an idea of what the government-types who are running the camps and such are thinking, which, now that I think about it, would be a really interesting perspective for one of these stories. Has anyone done that yet? Must go find!
Anyway. The characters are also pretty awesome; the book is mostly about the plot and the broader questions of ethics and being, so they aren’t the deepest characters ever written, but at least one of them will be relatable to you and even the jerk ones have enough backstory that you feel a little bad for them. Just a little, though.
I think the best part of this novel, and you may vehemently disagree, is that it never tries to explain why people are returning or whether this is going to keep happening after the end of the novel or even whether the Returned are real people or not. I like having the option to have my own opinion (which is currently “I have no idea”), and if Mott had tried to wrap it up nice and neat (like a certain aforementioned television show, grrr) I would probably have been disappointed no matter the outcome.
The second-best part of this novel is the author’s note, where Mott explains how the idea for The Returned came to him. This short note brought unexpected tears to my eyes and gave me a new perspective on some of the events of the story that I had previously not given much thought to. I don’t read poetry as a rule, but since that’s all that Mott’s written outside of this story (and some related short stories that I’m in the midst of reading), I may have to go check his collections out, because dude can write.
Recommendation: Read it. Just go do that. Right now.
an RIP read