Harold and Lucille Hargrave’s lives have been both joyful and sorrowful in the decades since their only son, Jacob, died tragically at his eighth birthday party in 1966. In their old age they’ve settled comfortably into life without him, their wounds tempered through the grace of time…. Until one day Jacob mysteriously appears on their doorstep—flesh and blood,
Harold and Lucille Hargrave’s lives have been both joyful and sorrowful in the decades since their only son, Jacob, died tragically at his eighth birthday party in 1966. In their old age they’ve settled comfortably into life without him, their wounds tempered through the grace of time…. Until one day Jacob mysteriously appears on their doorstep—flesh and blood, their sweet, precocious child, still eight years old.
All over the world, people’s loved ones are returning from beyond. No one knows how or why, whether it’s a miracle or a sign of the end. Not even Harold and Lucille can agree on whether the boy is real or a wondrous imitation, but one thing they know for sure: he’s their son. As chaos erupts around the globe, the newly reunited Hargrave family finds itself at the center of a community on the brink of collapse, forced to navigate a mysterious new reality and a conflict that threatens to unravel the very meaning of what it is to be human.
With spare, elegant prose and searing emotional depth, award-winning poet Jason Mott explores timeless questions of faith and morality, love and responsibility. A spellbinding and stunning debut, The Returned is an unforgettable story that marks the arrival of an important new voice in contemporary fiction.
“In his exceptional debut novel, poet Mott brings drama, pathos, joy, horror, and redemption to a riveting tale.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“This book offers a beautifully written and emotionally astute lens at our world gone awry….Poet and debut author Mott has written a breathtaking novel that navigates emotional minefields with realism and grace.”—Kirkus Review
“Mott brings a singularly eloquent voice to this elegiac novel, which not only fearlessly tackles larger questions about mortality but also insightfully captures life’s simpler moments….A beautiful meditation on what it means to be human.”—Booklist, starred review
“A wondrous surprise. With fine craftsmanship and a deep understanding of the human condition, Jason Mott has woven a tale that is in turns tragic and humorous and terrifying. Surely this will spark many a fabulous book club discussion.”—Eowyn Ivey, New York Times bestselling author of The Snow Child
Questions arise as to whether the Returned are miracles from God, or harbingers of the Devil. What was your initial reaction? Did it change over the course of the novel?
If possible, would you choose to call back a deceased loved one? Would you settle for their being somewhat altered, albeit “a copy” of what they were in life?
In the beginning of the novel, Lucille says “I don’t know what they are. All I know is they’re not like you and me. … They’re Devils. They’ve just come here to kill us, or tempt us. These are the end days. …” However, after the return of Jacob, she embraces him fully as her son. Did this surprise you? Do you think that she showed a natural maternal reaction? Can you imagine a mother responding differently?
How does Agent Bellamy’s reaction to his Returned mother differ from that of Lucille and Howard? Why does he hide her true identity from them?
In a real life instance of the Returned, do you imagine a government intervention like the one in Arcadia? Why or why not?
Fred Green is fiercely opposed to the presence of the Returned. Why? How much of his reaction has to do with the death of his wife? How do you think he would have reacted had she returned?
Jason Mott writes a very moving Author’s Note at the end of the novel. Did his explanation of his feelings following his mother’s death and its influence on his writing affect the way you perceived the story? In retrospect, in which parts of the book do Mott’s personal reckonings seem to emerge most strongly?
A passage at the end of the novel reads: “All the while, Lucille had never believed Jacob to be her son. But, all the while, Harold knew that he was. Maybe that’s the way it was for everyone. Some folks locked the doors of their hearts when they lost someone. Others kept the doors and windows open, letting memory and love pass through freely. And maybe that was the way it was supposed to be, Harold thought.” Discuss the idea expressed in this statement. Is The Returned a metaphor for the different ways we grieve?