Weekend Shorts: Stories from The Returned, by Jason Mott

You may recall from earlier this week that I absolutely loved The Returned. So when, in searching for another book, I came across a short story with the same title that was also a prequel to The Returned? SOLD. Well, it was free on Amazon, so not technically sold, but whatever.

And then later, when I discovered that was the middle story of a set of three? I cursed myself for reading things out of order, and then immediately read the other two stories. And then wished there were some more.

“The First”
The FirstThis story chronicles the first of the Returned, Edmund Blithe, who is mentioned briefly in the novel itself and whose story ends up being a little bit different from that of the other Returned we meet. Where other Returned show up in seemingly random places, Edmund comes back just weeks after his death to the same place he died, showing up at work and causing some severe emotional distress amongst his coworkers. The story is told partly from the perspective of his erstwhile fiancée, who has just finally gotten over the recent and sudden death of her favorite person and now has to deal with the fact that he’s come back but may or may not be himself and also he’s in government custody and how will she see him anyway, and partly from Edmund’s perspective of being unable to answer the government’s questions and also he’d really just like to see his favorite person, if that would be okay. I liked this one a lot.

“The Sparrow”
The SparrowThis is the first of the stories that I read, and I almost didn’t want to read the others because it’s kind of weird, or at least quite different from The Returned. It’s about a young couple who find a Returned child and take her in, but the two adults have very different ideas about how to take care of her and the story chronicles that fallout. Much of the story, though, is told in flashback to the child’s first youth and is about the stories that she invented with her parents, one of whom is often away during a time of fighting and is only able to sneak back sporadically. It’s an interesting story, certainly, and has some deep thoughts, but I was expecting something more like “The First” and so was a bit disappointed. Read this second, like you’re supposed to!

“The Choice”
The ChoiceProbably my least favorite of the bunch, this story treads a familiar path if you’ve read the book — a married man finds out that his childhood love, who died as a teenager, has returned and very much wants to see him again. The man, who has had a not-terribly-happy marriage due to still kind of being in love with his dead teenage girlfriend, fights the urge to see her, but after his wife finds out she decides that they should both go to visit her. The story is good, but it is practically straight out of the book so I’m not sure what purpose it serves.

All in all, if you’ve read the book and are interested in taking another trip into that world, I would stick with just the first story, which hews closely to the style and tone of the book. If you haven’t read the book and have half an hour to spare, you should read all of them and then, if you like the stories, put The Returned right on top of your TBR pile! You should do that last part anyway, really.

an RIP read

The Returned, by Jason Mott

The ReturnedI 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.

Rating: 10/10

an RIP read