The Returned - Jason Mott

This is a glorious, sad, thought-provoking journey of a book that I've read over the course of a day, from the first intriguing ideas to the inevitable, heartbreaking end. I'm sitting here a few minutes after finishing it trying to construct my review and blinking away a handful of tears.

It's something I think most - if not all - of us have thought about when losing a loved one: why can't they come back, why can't we say what we always wanted to say, please, can we just have a chance not to fuck it up this time. And The Returned looks at that in deep, heartwrenching, disturbing detail. It's a wide scope - the idea that all over the world, the dead are coming back to life - and Mott has made the smart choice to confine the majority of the action and events to a small town in Southern America. Of course it's interesting to wonder how the world would cope with a sudden influx of people, and that's touched on here, but this is very much a novel that looks, not at the economic or infrastructural logistics, but the emotional, the moral, the spiritual ones. And it's stronger for it, I think.

The Returned raises a lot of questions, most uncomfortable, some almost impossible to think about, and it's a fascinating examination of human nature: both the good and the bad. There are endless shades of grey here, far too many awful truths to look directly at, and while I often find myself resenting the 'what would you do' Picoult-esque nature of books that raise questions like this, I did find my mind lingering on this concept, trying to figure out where I placed myself, what I would do in this situation. Mott has a gorgeous turn of phrase, a deft way with establishing characters whether they appear as a brief fragment or throughout the novel, and I think it would be very hard to read this and not personally connect with at least one person.

This isn't a particularly easy read: while not a horror story of crudely shuffling zombies or even one overtly exploring an Us/Them divide, there's an edge of menace threaded throughout the book, a ticking clock, a burning down fuse, that inexorably carries you through to the shattering end. I want to say so much without wanting to ruin any of it for any prospective readers, so I think I'll just tell you, once again, that this is a clever, beautifully written, slow devastating twist of a novel, one I could barely bring myself to put down and one that I think is going to stay with me for a long time.

I want to meet Jason Mott now, and maybe cry all over him. But I'd settle for shaking his hand, and perhaps for thanking him instead.